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The Middle Ages (to 1500)

KEMP MALONE Johns Hopkins University ALBERT C.BAUGH University of Pennsylvania


The Renaissance (1500–1660)



MATTHIAS A.SHAABER University of Pennsylvania


The Restoration and Eighteenth Century (1660–1789)


The University of Chicago


The Nineteenth Century and After (1789–1939)


The Ohio State University


Second Edition

Edited by Albert C.Baugh




The Old English Period (to 1100)



The Middle English Period (1100–1500)


Old English Period (to 1100) KEMP MALONE & The Middle English Period (1100–1500) ALBERT C.BAUGH London

London and New York

First published in Great Britain by Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd

Second Edition 1967 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group

This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2005.

“To purchase your own copy of this or any of Taylor & Francis or Routledge’s collection of thousands of eBooks please go to www.eBookstore.tandf.co.uk.”

Copyright © 1967 by Meredith Publishing Company Copyright © 1948 by Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without the permission of the publisher, except for the quotation of brief passages in criticism

ISBN 0-203-39273-6 Master e-book ISBN

ISBN 0-203-39556-5 (Adobe eReader Format) ISBN 0-415-04557-6 (Print Edition)

Preface to the First Edition

The purpose of the work of which the present volume forms a part is to

provide a comprehensive history of the literature of England, an account that

is at once scholarly and readable, capable of meeting the needs of mature

students and of appealing to cultivated readers generally. While the literature of England is commonly thought of as literature in English, it is not likely that any one will quarrel with the fact that some mention is made of writings in Latin and French during the medieval period, at a time when these languages served as vernaculars for certain classes. The Latin writings of the Renaissance and later periods, however, have been omitted for lack of space. Nor will any one object to the inclusion of Scottish and Irish writers who do not belong geographically to England. Custom sufficiently sanctions including them. The original plan brought the history to an end with the year 1939 (the outbreak of the Second World War); but delay in publication caused by the war has permitted reference to a few events of a date subsequent to 1939. The extent of English literature is so great that no one can hope to read more than a fraction of it, and the accumulated scholarship—biographical, critical, and historical—by which writers and their works, and the forms and

movements and periods of English literature have been interpreted, is so vast that no single scholar can control it. A literary history of England by one author, a history that is comprehensive and authoritative over the whole field, is next to impossible. Hence, the plan of the present work. A general harmony of treatment among the five contributors, rather than rigid uniformity of plan, has seemed desirable, and there is quite properly some difference of emphasis in different sections. Thus, there is more of strictly philological matter in the section on Old English literature, and more of

political, economic, and social history in the treatment of the Nineteenth Century and After. It is hoped that the approach to the different sections will seem to be that best suited to the literature concerned. Since it is expected that those who read this history or consult it will wish for further acquaintance with the writings and authors discussed, it has been

a part of the plan to draw attention, by the generous use of footnotes, to

standard editions, to significant biographical and critical works, and to the most important books and articles in which the reader may pursue further the matters that interest him. A few references to very recent publications have been added in proof in an effort to record the present state of scholarly and critical opinion.




It is a pleasure for the authors of the present volume to record their special obligations. Professor Arthur G.Brodeur has read most of the Old English section. The late Professor Clarence G.Child and Professor MacEdward Leach read the Middle English portion, Dr. Hope Emily Allen the chapters on the Ancrene Riwle and Richard Rolle, Professor William Roach the chapters on Arthurian romance. To these scholars the authors express their warm sense of appreciation.




The reception of the Literary History of England has been so gratifying as to call for a number of successive printings, and these have permitted minor corrections to be made. The present edition has a further aim—to bring the book in line with the most recent scholarship. Small changes have been made in the plates wherever possible, but most of the additions, factual and bibliographical, are recorded in a Supplement. The text, Supplement, and Index are correlated by means of several typographical devices. Explanations of these devices appear on each part-title page as well as at the beginning of the Supplement and the Index. The editor regrets that the authors of Books II, III, and IV did not live to carry out the revisions of those books, but their places have been ably taken by the scholars whose names appear with theirs in the list of collaborators. It has been the desire of the editor, as well as of those who have joined him, that each of these books should remain essentially as the original author wrote it, and we believe that other scholars would concur. Any new points of view, it is hoped, are adequately represented in the Supplement,




Preface to the First Edition


Note to Second Edition


List of Abbreviations







Folk, State, and Speech



Anglo-Latin Writings



The Old Tradition: Poetic Form



The Old Tradition: Popular Poetry



The Old Tradition: Courtly Poetry



Religious Poetry: Cædmon and His School



Religious Poetry: Cynewulf and His School



Religious Poetry: Poems on Various Themes



Secular Poetry



Literary Prose





General Characteristics of the Period



The Survival of the Native Tradition (1100–1250)



The Ancrene Riwle



Anglo-Norman Literature



Early Latin Writers



Wit and Wisdom



For Their Soul’s Need



The Arthurian Legend to Layamon



The Romance: I



The Romance: II



The Omnibus of Religion



The Lyric



Richard Rolle and Other Mystics



The Alliterative Revival



Piers Plowman and Other Alliterative Poems



Chaucer: I



Chaucer: II



Other Contemporaries of Chaucer



The Beginnings of the Drama



Ebb Tide



Looking Forward


Bibliographical Supplement





List of Abbreviations


American Journal of Philology


Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen und Literaturen


Augustan Reprint Society


Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature (4V, Cam-


bridge, 1941) Les Classiques français du moyen âge


Cambridge History of English Literature (14V, 1907–17)


Comparative Literature


Essays and Studies by Members of the English Association


Early English Text Society, Original Series


Early English Text Society, Extra Series


English Historical Review


Essays in Criticism


ELH, A Journal of English Literary History


English Language Notes

EML Series

English Men of Letters Series


English Studies


Englische Studien


Germanic Review


Huntington Library Quarterly

Hist. Litt.

Histoire littéraire de la France (38v, 1733–1941, in progress)


Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism


Journal of English and Germanic Philology


Journal of the History of Ideas


Keats-Shelley Journal


(London) Times Literary Supplement


Medium Ævum


Modern Language Notes


Modern Language Quarterly


Modern Language Review


Modern Philology


Notes and Queries


Nineteenth-Century Fiction


Publications of the Modern Language Association of America


Philological Quarterly





Review of English Literature


Review of English Studies


Revue de littérature comparée


Romanic Review


Shakespeare Association Bulletin


Societé des anciens textes français


Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 (Rice Univ.)


Scholars’ Facsimiles and Reprints


Shakespeare Survey


Studies in Philology


Shakespeare Quarterly


Studies in the Renaissance


Scottish Text Society


University of Toronto Quarterly


Victorian Poetry


Victorian Studies

BOOK I The Middle Ages

PART I The Old English Period

(to 1100)

Guide to reference marks Throughout the text of this book, a point • set beside a page number indicates that references to new critical material will be found under an identical paragraph/page number (set in boldface) in the BIBLIOGRAPHICAL SUPPLEMENT. In the Index, a number preceded by an S indicates a paragraph/page number in the BIBLIOGRAPHICAL SUPPLEMENT.

I 1

Folk, State, and Speech

England and the English, state and folk, 2 are not old as historians reckon time. Tacitus set down the English name, it is true, as early as A.D. 98, but the Anglii of the Germania 3 were only a Germanic tribe of the Jutland peninsula, politically independent but culturally part of a nationality, not yet a nationality in their own right. They won cultural independence and national status by migration. In the fifth and sixth centuries of our era the Angles, like many another Germanic tribe of that day, gave up their old seats and sought land and loot within the bounds of the Roman Empire. If Bede is right, the whole tribe left home in this migration, and parts of at least two neighboring tribes, the Saxons and the Jutes, took ship in the same move. 4 All three tribes settled anew in the Roman province of Britannia, the eastern half of which they overran, from the Channel to the Firth of Forth. The western half held out longer against them, though without help from Rome, who had withdrawn her legions from Britannia one after another until, early in the fifth century, the land was left stripped of troops. Not until the ninth century did Cornwall yield to English arms, and further north the Welsh kept their freedom, more or less, until 1282, over 200 years after the English lost theirs at Hastings. But by the end of the sixth century most of the geographical area now known as England had fallen into the hands of

Bibliography: A.H.Heusinkveld and E.J.Bashe, A Bibliographical Guide to Old English, Univ. of Iowa Humanistic Studies, iv, 5 (Iowa City, 1931); see also the Old English section (I. 51–110) of the CBEL, and W.L.Renwick and H.Orton, The Beginnings of English Literature to Skelton (1940), pp. 133–252. Literary history: recent works are E.E.Wardale’s Chapters on Old English Literature (1935) and C.W.Kennedy’s The Earliest English Poetry (1943); an older work, S.A.Brooke’s English Literature from the Beginning to the Norman Conquest (1898). The best treatment remains A.Brandl’s Englische

Literatur, in H.Paul’s Grundriss der germ. Philologie, 2ed., II. Band, I. Abteilung, VI. Abschnitt (Strassburg, 1908), a work which, in spite of its title, deals almost wholly with Old English; also issued separately under the title Geschichte der altenglischen Literatur. Poetic texts: the corpus of Old English poetry was first edited by C.W.M.Grein, under the title Bibliothek der ags. Poesie; R.P.Wülcker’s rev. ed. of this (1883–1898) is still standard; it is cited sometimes as Grein-Wülcker, sometimes as Wülcker

or Wülker; a new collection in six volumes, The Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records, edited by G.P.Krapp and

E.V.K.Dobbie, begun in 1932, was completed in 1953; we cite it as Krapp-Dobbie. Prose texts: the corpus of Old English prose still wants collecting, though a number of texts have been published in the Bibl. der ags. Prosa, the Early English Text Society series, and elsewhere.

2 Political history: F.M.Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford, 1943); see also R.G. Collingwood and J.N.L.Myres, Roman Britain and the English Settlements (Oxford, 1936); R.H.Hodgkin, A History of the Anglo-Saxons [to A.D. 900] (2V, Oxford, 1935); Charles Oman, England before the Norman Conquest (1910).





3 Cap. 40; cf. K.Malone, Namn och Bygd. XXII (1934). 26–51.

4 Hist. Eccl. I. 15. The j of Jutes (from Bede’s Iutae) is in origin a blunder, by confusion of t and j.

A better form would be Iuts or Euts, but these forms are current among the learned only.





of the





the Germanic tribesmen, and these, whatever their tribe, had begun to think of themselves as members of a larger unit, a new nationality which went by the English name. The old tribal name Angl(i)i in its extended or generic sense, denoting the Germanic inhabitants of Britain irrespective of tribe, first appears in the writings of Pope Gregory the Great (d.604). 5 The rise of this national name marks the beginnings of English national (as distinct from tribal) feeling. By this time, indeed, the tribes no longer existed as such. When the Roman mission which Gregory had sent out reached England in the year 597, the missionaries did not find any tribal organizations of Angles, Saxons, and Jutes; they found a number of kingdoms, each autonomous but those south of the Humber drawn together, loosely enough, through their recognition of the imperium or overlordship of the reigning king of Kent. Earlier holders of such a personal imperium had been a king of Sussex and a king of Wessex, and later holders would be kings of various realms north and south of the Humber, until in the ninth century King Egbert would win it permanently for the royal house of Wessex. 6 We know nothing of the political connections of the various Germanic settlements in Britain before the rise of the first imperium, but we have little reason to think that any tribal organization, as such, outlived the migration from Germany. It seems altogether likely that the settlements started their respective careers as mutually independent political units, and that the tribal affiliations of given migrants or groups of migrants had little practical importance even at the time of migration, and soon became a matter of antiquarian and sentimental interest only. 7 No tribal loyalties, therefore, stood in the way of the English nationalism which, by virtue of geographical and cultural community, early came into being. On the religious side, moreover, this nationalism was fostered, not hindered, by the conversion to Christianity in the seventh century: the Roman missionaries organized a Church of England, not separate churches of Kent, Wessex, and the like, and in the year 664, at the synod of Whitby, the Romanizers, led by Wilfrid of York, won the field over their Irish rivals, ensuring thereby the religious unification of all England in a single Church. 8 On the political side, it is true, English nationalism could hardly win much ground so long as the various kingdoms kept their autonomy, subject only to the shifting imperium of one or another of the many royal houses. But this particularistic system of government broke down for good and all in the ninth and tenth centuries. In the ninth Egbert set up and Alfred

5 The Pope presumably had the term, directly or indirectly, from the English themselves. Certainly Saxones was the generic term current among the insular Celts, and on the Continent, in and before Gregory’s day, and in setting this old and familiar term aside in favor of Angli, Gregory must have been trying to conform to English usage (which with good reason might be held authoritative here). The Pope’s example was followed by Gregory of Tours and other writers of the seventh and eighth centuries.

6 Bede, op. cit., II. 5; see also OE Annals under A.D. 827. With the imperium went the title Bretwalda “ruler of Britain.”

7 Cf. J.N.L.Myres, in Roman Britain and the English Settlements, pp. 347–348.

8 See S.J.Crawford, Anglo-Saxon Influence on Western Christendom (Oxford, 1933), pp. 48–49; cf. J.L.G.Meissner, Celtic Church in England after the Synod of Whitby (1929).



clinched the overlordship of the kings of Wessex, while in the tenth these kings took for title Rex Anglorum “King of the English.” The other royal houses died out or lost their kingly rank and function; Alfred’s followers on the throne won back the Danelaw; the former English and Danish kingdoms in Britain became mere provinces of a kingdom of England; in sum, an English nation replaced the old imperium. The political nationalism which grew up hand in hand with the new nation found focus, naturally enough, in the person of the king, and to this day English patriotism has not lost its association with the crown. But this is not the place to tell the tale of English nationalism in the tenth and eleventh centuries. 9 It will be enough to mention one of its many fruits, the “King’s English” or standard written speech which had grown current all over England by the end of the tenth century. In this form of Old English nearly all the vernacular writings of the period were set down, and the scribes, in copying older writings, usually made them conform to the new standard of speech, though they might let an old spelling, here and there, go unchanged. England, with its national king (descendant of Alfred, the national hero), its national Church (founded by a papal mission and in communion with Rome), its national speech (the King’s English), and its old and rich national literature, stood unique in the Europe of the year 1000. No other modern European state reached full nationhood so early. And yet this English nationhood did not come too soon. Indeed, if it had not been reached early it might not have been reached at all, for the eleventh was a century of political disaster. The state succumbed to foreign foes, and for more than 200 years of French rule the only weapon left to the English was the strong nationalism handed down to them from the golden days of the past. But for this nationalism, the English language in particular would hardly have survived as such, though it might have lingered on for centuries in the form of mutually unintelligible peasant dialects, and with the triumph of French speech England would have become a cultural if not political province of France, doomed to a fate not unlike that which in later times actually befell Ireland at English hands. The nationalism which saved England from such a fate owed much of its strength, of course, to the rich literary culture of the centuries before Hastings, a culture marked from the beginning by free use of the mother tongue (alongside Latin) as a medium of expression. To this mother tongue, and to the literature of which it was the vehicle, let us now turn. 10 English history (as distinguished from prehistory) begins in the year 597.


The Roman and Irish missionaries taught the English to make those written


records from which the historians glean their knowledge of early England


9 The tale is told by R.W.Chambers, EETS, 186 (1932). lxi–lxxx. See also Chambers, Man’s Unconquerable Mind (1939), pp. 70–87. Chambers fails to point out that Old English nationalism was summed up and given official expression in the legal formula an Christendom and an cynedom æfre on ðeode “one Church and one state always in the land.” See F.Liebermann, Gesetze der Angelsachsen, I (1903). 385. 10 A standard guide to the language of the period is the Old English Grammar of J. and E. M.Wright (3ed., Oxford, 1925).






and the particular records written in the vernacular give us our earliest documentation of the mother tongue. Then as now this tongue went by the English name. 11 Its nearest kinsman was the speech of the Frisians. Closely kindred tongues, too, were Saxon and Franconian (or Frankish), the two main dialects of Low German. 12 The dialects of High German, and those of Scandinavian, had features which made their kinship to English less close. English was akin to all these neighboring tongues, and to Gothic, in virtue of common descent from Germanic, a language which we know chiefly through its offspring, as it had split up into dialects at a date so early that the records of it in its original or primitive state are few. Germanic in turn was an offshoot of Indo-European, a hypothetical tongue which we know only through the many languages which are descended from it. To the Indo-European family of languages belonged, not only English and the other children of Germanic, but also Latin (with its offspring, the Romance languages), Greek, the various Celtic and Slavic languages, Persian, Sanskrit (with other languages of India), Armenian, Albanian, Lithuanian, Latvian, etc. 13 Here, however, the kinship is so remote that it is overshadowed by a connection of another kind: a fellowship, so to speak. Latin, for instance, is only remotely linked to English by common descent from Indo-European, but it is closely linked to English by common participation in European life. The fellowship between English and Latin, it must be added, has always been one-sided; Latin has done the giving, English the taking, and this because Latin, the language of the Church and the vehicle of classical culture, had much to give and found little if anything that it needed to take. 14 That English has many words taken from Latin is a fact familiar to everyone. Such words began coming in even before the migration to Britain (e.g., street and cook), and they have kept coming in ever since. Less familiar, perhaps, are the so-called semantic borrowings: native words with meanings taken from Latin. Two examples will have to serve: god-spell

11 Throughout historical times the adj. English (used in the absolute construction) has been the regular name for the language spoken by the Germanic inhabitants of Britain. From the seventeenth century onward, the adj. Anglo-Saxon (a learned coinage of modern times) has had more or less currency as a synonym of English; among scholars it was commonly used to denote the earliest forms of English, but this meaning has never become familiar to the general public, and most scholars now call the language in all stages by the name which it has always had among those who spoke it: namely, English. See K.Malone, RES, v (1929). 173–185. When qualification by period is thought needful, a suitable qualifying term may be prefixed. See K.Malone, English Journal, College Edition, XIX (1930). 639– 651. The usual division by periods gives Old English (beginnings to 1100), Middle English (1100 to 1500), and Modern English (1500 to present day). Linguistically speaking, this division is not accurate, but all divisions in the nature of the case are more or less arbitrary.

12 The chief modern representatives of the Franconian dialect of Low German are Dutch and Flemish.

13 The traditional classification here followed is figurative (for a language is no plant or animal and neither begets nor brings forth offspring). Classification in biological terms, moreover, like any other way of ordering phenomena, stresses some features at the cost of others. If, however, we bear all this in mind, we may accept the linguistic family tree as a legitimate device, serving a useful purpose.

14 Here we must distinguish between classical and medieval Latin. The former took nothing from English; the latter (more precisely, that variety of medieval Latin current in England) became more or less colored, in time, by its English setting.



(modern gospel), literally “good news,” is a translation of Latin evangelium (itself taken from Greek), and its meaning is restricted accordingly; þing (modern thing) originally had in common with Latin res the meaning “(legal) dispute, lawsuit,” whereupon, in virtue of the equation thus set up, other meanings of res came to be given to the Old English word, including the meaning most common today. 15 But the fellowship with Latin affected English idiom and style as well as vocabulary; thus, the Latin mundo uti “live” reappears in the worolde brucan of Beowulf. The fellowship of English with French began much later (toward the end of the Old English period), but has proved just as lasting, and French comes next to Latin in the list of foreign tongues that have set their mark on English speech. The only other important medieval fellowship was that with Danish (as it was then called) or Scandinavian (as we call it now). Here matters were complicated by the kinship of the two tongues. Both Danish and English went back to Germanic, and often one could not tell whether a given word was native English or of Viking importation, so much alike were the two languages. The Scandinavian origin of many of our most familiar words, however, can be proved by earmarks of one kind or another (e.g., sky and take). The fellowship with Danish, beginning in the ninth century, was at its height in the tenth and eleventh; after that it lessened, and though it never died out it has. played only a small part in modern times. Fellowship with foreign tongues is no peculiarity of English; all languages have connections of this kind, though some are more friendly than others. Such fellowships markedly affect the stock of words (including formative prefixes and suffixes), but as a rule leave almost or altogether unchanged the sounds and inflexions. Their effect on syntax, idiom, and style is hard to assess with precision. In the Old World of medieval times, four great linguistic cultural empires flourished side by side: Latin, Arabic, Sanskrit, and Chinese. 16 The languages of western Europe (whether Celtic, Germanic or Romanic) gave their allegiance to Latin, and English yielded with the rest, 17 but the Latinizing forces did not reach the height of their power in English until the Middle Ages were dead and gone. The medieval Englishman, meekly though he bowed before imperial speech, clung stubbornly to his linguistic heritage. So much for externals. What of the mother tongue in its own right? Texts written partly or wholly in English (including glosses) have come down to us from the seventh century onward, and by the eleventh their number has greatly grown. From them we learn that the language was not uniform throughout the country but fell into dialects. Our records show four main dialects: one northern, commonly called Northumbrian; one midland, known as Mercian; and two southern, Kentish and West Saxon. The




15 These and other examples may be found in S.Kroesch’s paper, “Semantic Borrowing in Old English,” Studies…in honor of Frederick Klaeber (Minneapolis, 1929), pp. 50–72.

16 Greek had a medieval empire too, but it was a mere shadow of its Hellenistic self.

17 Of all the western tongues, Icelandic alone held out against Latinization.



The Place

last of these is abundantly represented in the texts; it served as a basis for standard Old English speech. The other dialects are recorded rather meagerly, but the texts we have are enough to give us some idea of the dialectal distinctions. Other dialects than these presumably existed, but for want of texts we know little or nothing about them. The Old English dialects, unlike their descendants, the dialects of modern times, had undergone no great differentiation, and their respective speakers understood each other with ease. The Old English standardization of speech came about, not from any linguistic need but as a by-product and symbol of national unity: the King’s English won for itself a prestige that proved overwhelming. We shall not undertake to give in this history a detailed or even a

of Old

systematic description of Old English speech. We shall do no more than


mark, as best we can, where Old English stands on the road from Germanic


times to the twentieth century. Here the classical or standard speech of A.D. 1000 will serve as our basis of comparison, and we shall compare this stage of Old English with primitive Germanic on the one hand and current English on the other. With our terms so defined, the temporal place of Old English is midway between Germanic and the speech of today. But mere lapse of time means little, since the tempo of change varies markedly down the years. Let us look at a few particulars each for itself. And first the matter of differentiation. In the year 100, Germanic was already split up into dialects, but these


dialects had not yet grown far apart, and the unity of the language was still


unbroken. More precisely, the Anglo-Frisian or proto-English dialect had no independent existence, but was merely a regional form of Germanic. By the year 1000 a revolutionary change had taken place. English had become a language in its own right, fully developed and self-sufficient; in the process it had grown so unlike its Continental kinsmen that their respective speakers could not understand each other. No comparable change took place after the year 1000; since that date the language has simply kept the independence which it earlier won. In other words, the differentiation of English from the other Germanic tongues, a process which has been going on without a break for some 1500 years, was of the utmost importance in its early stages, but became relatively unimportant after English won its independence and established itself as a going concern. In the matter of differentiation, then, the fundamental changes took place in the first, not in the second of our two periods—before, not after A.D. 1000. Next we take up the simplification of the inflexional system. Germanic


was a highly inflected speech; Germanic and Latin were at about the same stage or level of inflexional complexity. Modern English, on the other hand, has a rather simple inflexional system and relies largely on word order and particles, devices not unknown to Germanic but less important than they are today in expressing syntactical relationships. How far had simplification gone by the year 1000? Among the nouns it had gone pretty far, though grammatical gender did not break down until Middle English



times. 18 Among the adjectives, simplification went more slowly: the elaborate double system of adjectival inflexion characteristic of Germanic and kept to this day in German was kept in Old English too, and was not wholly given up until the fifteenth century. Much the same may be said of the demonstratives: that in Old English still had twelve forms as against the three current today (the, that, those), 19 and this still had ten forms as against the two of today (this, these). In the inflexion of the personal pronouns, however, the beginnings of the modern three-case system appear as early as the text of Beowulf, where we find the datives me, þe, him used now and then as accusatives; thus, him thrice occurs in accusative constructions (lines 963, 2377, 2828). This use led later to the loss of the personal (and interrogative) accusative forms, the old dative forms doing duty for both cases. 20 The Germanic system of verb inflexion also underwent marked simplification in Old English. 21 This loss or reduction of many inflexional endings did not occur as a strictly inflexional change, but made part of a change much wider in scope, and phonetic rather than inflexional in kind. English shared with the other Germanic tongues a system of pronunciation by which the first syllable of a word was stressed at the expense of the other syllables; 22 these, by progressive weakening, underwent reduction or were lost. Most of the many monosyllabic words in Old English go back to Germanic words of two or more syllables, and most of the dissyllabic words go back to Germanic polysyllables. The tendency to reduce or get rid of the unstressed syllables set in more than once in Old English times; thus, the so-called Middle English leveling of the inflexional endings actually took place in the tenth century, though traditional spelling kept the old distinctions in the texts (more or


18 Nearly all Old English nouns belonged to one of three declensions: a-stems, o-stems and n- stems. In the plural all these had a three-case system of inflexion: one form for the nom. and acc., one for the gen. and one for the dat. (Modern English has a two-case system: one form for nom. dat. acc., another form for gen.). In the singular, the à-stems had a three-case inflexion parallel to that of the plural. (Modern English likewise has a two-case system parallel to that of the plural). The other two declensions, however, had a two-case inflexion of the singular: one form marked the nom., the other the oblique case. (The neuter n-stem nouns had a different two-case system: one form for the nom. acc., the other for gen. dat.). Moreover, by the year 1000 the distinction between nom. and oblique had been lost in the singular of o-stems, and tended to be lost in the singular of n-stems. The consequent inability of speakers to make case distinctions in these declensions may have had something to do with the Middle English tendency to give a-stem. inflexion to the o-stem and n-stem nouns. At any rate, this tendency existed and was carried through (to the incidental destruction of grammatical gender), and the modern inflexion of nouns is only a somewhat simplified form of the old a-stem inflexion. Other Germanic declensions, of which only remnants or traces appear in Old English, were i-stems, u-stems, s-stems, r-stems, þ-stems, nd-stems, and monosyllabic consonant stems.

19 But the indeclinable definite article the occurs in Old English times (notably in annal 963 of the Laud text of the Annals).

20 But the neut. acc. forms hit and hwæt were kept, and did duty for the dat. as well.

21 Thus, the passive was lost, except for the form hatte; the dual was lost; the three persons were no longer distinguished except in the indicative singular, and even here only in the present tense (in the preterit the second person had a distinctive form, but the first and third persons were identical).

22 But the inseparable preverbs did not take the stress (e.g., be in becuman “become”), and the prefixes be-, for-, and ge-, whether used as preverbs or not, usually lost whatever accent they may once have had (e.g., forbod “prohibition”).

Stock of




less) for 200 years thereafter. Nor did the year 1000 mark the end of such changes; the tendency has kept up to this day. It goes with our emphatic or dynamic style of utterance, a style which strengthens the strong and weakens the weak to gain its characteristic effects. The rhythm of English speech has always been apt for emphasis, but has lent itself less readily to indifference. In the quietest of conversations the points still come too strong for a really smooth flow; the dynamic style natural to the language makes itself felt in spite of everything. Perhaps the likewise hoary English taste for litotes has had the function of neutralizing the emphasis with which even an understatement must be uttered. And the quiet low voice which the English take such pains to cultivate may have a like function. In Old English verse the dynamic quality of ordinary speech rhythm was sharpened by alliteration and reinforced by an ictus which (unlike that of Latin verse) never did violence to the natural stress pattern. In effect the verse rhythm was a heightened prose rhythm; by virtue of this heightening, the words of the poet gained in strength and worth. Finally we come to the development of the English vocabulary. Germanic was a speech well suited to those who spoke it, but its stock of words fell woefully short of meeting the needs of a civilized people. Many new scientific, technical, and learned terms had to be coined by the English after their conversion to Christianity and their adoption of that civilization which the missionaries brought up from the south. Indeed, the change from barbarism to civilization had marked effects on every aspect of English life, and names had to be found for all the new things that kept pouring in. The English rose magnificently to the occasion. They gave new meanings to old words, and made new words by the thousand. A good many Latin words were taken over bodily, but most of the new words were coinages, minted from the native wordstock whether inspired by Latin models or of native inspiration. 23 This creative linguistic activity made English an instrument of culture equal to the needs of the time. By the year 1000, this new-comer could measure swords with Latin in every department of expression, and was incomparably superior to the French speech that came in with William of Normandy. 24 But the shift from English to French in cloister

23 On the Old English wordstock, see A.C.Baugh, History of the English Language (1935), pp. 75– 80 and 101–110. Note also Professor O.Vocadlo’s characterization of Old English: “The language of Wessex as it was developed by Alfred and his followers was certainly the most refined and cultured speech among all early Teutonic dialects…. With its rich vocabulary, which conformed to a Latin pattern in the formation of native abstract words and was a fit tool even for the subtleties of philosophical and theological thought, [it] was no doubt the only fully developed vernacular language in Europe: the only medieval language which at an early period developed a remarkable nomenclature of science, religion and philosophy out of its own resources” (Studies in English by Members of the English Seminar of the Charles University, Prague, 1933, p. 62). 24 Sir James Murray, in The Evolution of English Lexicography (1900), p. 14, puts the matter thus:

“In literary culture the Normans were as far behind the people whom they conquered as the Romans were when they made themselves masters of Greece.” Not until the twelfth century did the development of French into a literary language get well under way. In other important aspects of culture, too, the English were ahead of the Normans. As R.W. Chambers points out, in his Continuity of English Prose (1932), “the Norman conquerors were amazed at the wealth of precious things they found in England— a land which in that respect, they said, surpassed Gaul many times over. England reminded them of



and hall brought about a great cultural decline among the hapless English, and when their speech at last rose again in the world it had been stripped of much of its cultural freight and now turned to Latin or French for words that it would never have needed if only it could have kept its own. By turning to foreign stores the language built up anew its lessened word stock, but at heavy cost. From that day to this it has gone the easy way, borrowing from others instead of doing its own creative work, until its muscles have become flabby for want of exercise, while the enormous and ever increasing mass of foreign matter taken into its system has given it a chronic case of linguistic indigestion. In sum, the English language became a vehicle of civilization in Old English times, but during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the great medieval centuries, it lost rather than gained cultural ground, and its remarkable recovery in the fourteenth and succeeding centuries took place in such a way that permanent damage was done. Thanks to this recovery, English has kept its function as a vehicle of civilization, but in so doing it was merely holding fast to an Old English inheritance. Today we carry on, but we owe our cultural tradition to the pathfinding work of the men of oldest England.


what they had heard of the riches of Byzantium or the East. A Greek or a Saracen would have been astonished, said William of Poitiers, at the artistic treasures of England” (p. lxx). Again, “English jewellery, metal-work, tapestry and carving were famed throughout Western Europe. English illumination was unrivalled,… Even in stone-carving, those who are competent to judge speak of the superiority of the native English carver over his Norman supplanter” (ibid., p. lxxvii). The verdict of one of “those who are competent to judge” reads thus: “in the minor arts the Norman conquest was little short of a catastrophe, blotting out alike a good tradition and an accomplished execution, and setting in its place a semi-barbaric art which attempted little and did that little ill” (A.W.Clapham, English Romanesque Architecture before the Conquest [1930], p. 77). See also M.Schapiro, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, VI Series, XXIII (1943). 146.


Anglo-Latin Writings

Composition in a foreign tongue has always been something of a tour de force. Few people ever master a language not their own, and writings done in an alien speech rarely rise above the level of school exercises. Now and then some genius transcends these limitations, but, even so, his work usually remains an aesthetic curiosity, of little consequence in the literary scheme of things. The Anglo-Latin writings 1 which we shall now take up make no exception to the general rule. They have their importance in the history of English culture, but they cannot be reckoned triumphs of literary art. The custom of composing in Latin came to England with the missionaries of the Church, and the English converts (more precisely, those of them in training for holy orders) learned to read and write Latin as part of their professional education. Christianity, though Jewish in origin, had grown up in the Hellenistic world, and Greek accordingly became the language of the early Church. In the course of the third century, however, this linguistic unity was lost: Greek, kept in the east, yielded to Latin in the west as the masses there gradually gave up their native tongues and took the idiom of their Roman rulers. Into this lingua franca of the west St. Jerome translated the Bible; in this common speech his contemporary St. Augustine of Hippo 2 and other Church fathers wrote. By A.D. 597, when the conversion of the English began, a rich Christian literature in the Latin tongue had come into being. The Church made this literature accessible to the converts, along with secular and pagan literature in the same tongue. 3 We know very little about the state of Latin learning among the English before the synod of Whitby. 4 After that synod (one of the great turning-

1 The most convenient bibliography of Anglo-Latin writings for students of English literature is the section called “Writings in Latin” of the CBEL (I. 98–110). But the Anglo-Latin part of this section (it includes Celto-Latin writings as well) is incomplete and badly organized. By inadvertence F.J.E.Raby’s History of Secular Latin Poetry in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 1934) is not listed in this section, though it is duly listed later (I. 281). It will here be cited as “Raby 1934,” and the same author’s History of Christian-Latin Poetry…(Oxford, 1927) will be cited as “Raby 1927.”

2 Jerome died in A.D. 420; Augustine, in A.D. 430.

3 Some indication of the particular works current in early England may be had from the study of J.D.A.Ogilvy, Books Known to Anglo-Latin Writers from Aldhelm to Alcuin (Cambridge, Mass., 1936). We have no like study of vernacular writers, though learned sources for many Old English writings have been suggested, as will appear below, passim.

4 See above, p. 4. From the witness of Bede (Hist. Eccl.,III. 3, 27) and from investigations into the sources of Anglo-Latin and vernacular writings, it looks as if the instruction which the Irish gave to their English pupils went beyond the elementary stage. We have no reason to credit the Roman mission, however, with anything more than elementary instruction in reading, writing, and singing.




points in English history) the reigning pope sent Theodore of Tarsus to England to serve as Archbishop of Canterbury and to make as fruitful as possible the victory of the Romanizers at Whitby. With Theodore went his fellow-monk, Abbot Hadrian, as chief helper in the work. Both were men of learning, at home in Latin and Greek. They set up at Canterbury a monastic school which worked wonders. Within a generation England became the chief seat of scholarship in western Europe, and that golden age of the English Church began through which the English people made the greatest of all their contributions to civilization. During this momentous period England led the world and set the course of history as she was not to do again until modern times. 5 The great service which the scholarship of the golden age rendered to us and to all men was the preservation and transmission of classical culture. This culture, long in decline, seemed doomed in its ancient western seats, where barbarization proceeded apace. Luckily it found, first in Ireland and then in England, a haven of refuge. Here Christianity soon won the hearts of the heathen, and with the new faith came Mediterranean civilization, of which the Church had made herself the bearer. In particular, monasticism flourished, and the monks learned to read and copy the books that kept the past alive. Further than this most of the monks did not go, but some took the next step and composed works of their own in the Latin tongue. The first Englishman of note to do this was Aldhelm; with him we begin our brief survey of Anglo-Latin writings. Aldhelm or Ealdhelm (d. 709) 6 was a man of Wessex, a kinsman of the West Saxon king. He began his studies under the Irish scholar Maeldub, but got most of his training at Canterbury under Theodore and Hadrian. He gained a remarkable command of Latin, and learned some Greek besides, and even a little Hebrew. His duties as monk, as abbot of Malmesbury, and finally as bishop of Sherborne did not keep him from doing a substantial amount of writing. He is said to have composed in English as well as Latin, but his vernacular compositions have not come down to us; presumably they were thought of as trifles, unworthy of written record. For the same reason only scraps have survived of Aldhelm’s rhythmical Latin verse; i.e., verse done in isosyllabic lines. 7 Nearly all we have of his poetry is in hexameters, and belongs to the classical quantitative tradition.




5 See S.J.Crawford, Anglo-Saxon Influence on Western Civilization 600–800 (Oxford, 1933). See also W.Wattenbach, Deutschlands Geschichtsquellen im Mittelalter (3ed., Berlin, 1873), I 102; L.von Ranke, Sämmtliche Werke 3ed., XXXVII (Leipzig, 1907). 11–13; K.Malone, JHI, I (1940). 292–293; J.W.H.Atkins, English Literary Criticism, the Medieval Phase (Cambridge, 1943), p. 38. The student would do well to read, besides, the chapter on the golden age in R.H.Hodgkin’s History of the Anglo- Saxons (Oxford, 1935). The latest study of these matters is that of W.Levinson, England and the Continent in the Eighth Century (Oxford, 1946).

6 R.Ehwald, Aldhelmi Opera (Berolini, 1919; Mon. Germ. Hist., Auct. Antiq., XV).

7 See Ehwald, ed. cit., pp. 520–521, where the items are brought together. Ehwald also includes in his edition (pp. 523–537) five Carmina Rhythmica by pupils of Aldhelm: four by Æthilwald, one by a pupil whose name is not known. For a discussion of these poems see Raby 1927, pp. 144–145 and Raby 1934, I. 172–174. Rhythmical verse must be kept apart from accentual verse, of which it was a forerunner. A truly accentual Latin versification developed too late in the Middle Ages to come within the scope of this chapter.





Aldhelm’s major poem is De Virginitate (2904 lines), a versification of a prose treatise of his which bears the same name. He also wrote a number of short Carmina Ecclesiastica (428 lines in all), and 100 versified riddles, done on the model of the 100 Enigmata of Symphosius, 8 but departing from these in various ways. 9 Aldhelm incorporated his riddles into the learned prose treatise which he wrote on versification, a treatise which took the form of a letter to King Ealdfrith of Northumbria, whence its title Epistola ad Acircium. 10 In it Aldhelm set forth in some detail the principles of metrics as he understood them, with many examples drawn indiscriminately from classical and postclassical writings, sacred and profane. A few other letters of Aldhelm’s also survive. Aldhelm wrote Latin well, by the standards of his own time. His taste for rare words, involved expression, and stylistic display reflects that of the age, and should not be held against him personally. 11 He had great gifts, but his education proved too much for them. Overawed by the postclassical literary culture which his teachers hammered into him, he took it as he found it and made it his own, without thought of criticism. What else could be expected of a man who was but one remove from barbarism? His writings won the admiration of many (e.g., Bede), and later writers were more or less influenced by him, especially in the composition of Latin and vernacular riddles. 12 The cultural developments in northern England, however, proved more important for Anglo-Latin letters; to these developments let us now proceed. Benedict Biscop (628–690), a Northumbrian monk of noble birth, happened to be in Rome, on the second of his five journeys to the Continent, when the Pope made Theodore Archbishop of Canterbury. At the Pope’s request, Biscop accompanied Theodore to England, and helped him start his work there, serving two years as abbot of the monastery at Canterbury. After his return to his native Northumbria, Biscop founded at Wearmouth a Benedictine monastery on the Roman model; a few years later he established a sister

8 For the text of Symphosius see R.T.Ohl, The Enigmas of Symphosius (Philadelphia, 1928). The editor prints the Latin text and an English translation on opposite pages. In his Introduction (pp. 20– 23) he sketches briefly the influence of Symphosius on Anglo-Latin writers.

9 Thus, the riddles of Symphosius are all the same length (three lines), whereas those of Aldhelm vary greatly in length. Aldhelm’s riddles were edited by J.H.Pitman, Yale Studies in English, LXVII (1925). The editor gives an English translation in blank verse, and in his introduction discusses Aldhelm’s style and influence. 10 Ehwald, ed. cit., pp. 33–204. For an explanation of the curious name Acircius, see Ehwald, p.


11 That this taste was no peculiarity of Celto-Latin writers seems dear. Certainly Aldhelm’s training at Canterbury did not teach him the error of his ways. Cf. J.W.H.Atkins, op. cit., pp. 41–42. 12 This influence went with that of Symphosius; see the discussions of Ohl and Pitman mentioned above. Besides the riddles of Aldhelm, we have 40 Latin riddles by Tætwine (d. 734), to which his contemporary Hwætberht or Eusebius added 60 in order to bring the total to the conventional century. Wynfrith or Boniface (d. 755) and Alcuin (d. 804) also wrote riddles; the former must be reckoned a disciple of Aldhelm. On the riddles associated with Bede, see F.Tupper, “Riddles of the Bede Tradition,” MP, II (1905). 561–572. For a study of wider scope see E.Von Erhardt-Siebold, Die lateinischen Rätsel der Angelsachsen (Heidelberg, 1925); the author notes that “the Latin riddles give…a picture of an amazingly developed culture in Old England. They…bear witness, further, to the amazing amount of reading done by their clerical authors” (pp. 3–4).



monastery at Jarrow. These foundations soon became centers of learning unequaled in western Europe. For them, in repeated journeys to Rome, Biscop brought together a library adequate to the needs of scholarship. In his own teaching he applied the lessons he had learned at Canterbury and elsewhere, and his successor, Abbot Ceolfrid, kept up the good work. Under these two masters Bede, “the teacher of all the Middle Ages,” 13 and many other Englishmen got a training comparable to that given by Theodore and Hadrian at Canterbury. The English golden age reached its height in the double monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow. The Venerable Bede (673–735), the greatest of Biscop’s pupils and the chief Anglo-Latin writer of the golden age, entered the monastic school at Jarrow when he was seven years old, and spent the rest of his life in this monastery, becoming a deacon at 19, a priest at 30; he. performed the regular duties of a Benedictine monk up to his last illness. His writings are too many to be listed here; 14 they include grammatical and critical handbooks like De Metrica Arte, scientific treatises like De Ratione Temporum, commentaries on various books of the Bible (canonical and apocryphal), homilies, saints’ lives, and verse. Many of his books had a wide circulation in medieval Europe and held their own for centuries as the authoritative treatments of their respective subjects. At present, however, Bede’s fame rests chiefly on a work of his latter years, the Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (“Church History of the English People”). 15 This work is our primary source of information about the most momentous period in English history: the period of change from barbarism to civilization. In other words, Bede is not only first among English historians in point of time; he is also first in importance. The story of the great change found in Bede a worthy teller. The merits of Bede as a historian have often been pointed out and need not be dwelt upon here. In assessing his merits as a writer we must bear in mind that he was first of all the scholar, not the literary artist. He undertook the labor of composition to set forth historical truth, not to provide aesthetic delight. But it remains a pleasure to read the History. Bede wrote Latin with the

13 W.Wattenbach, loc. cit.


14 Bede lists nearly all of them himself at the end of the Hist. Eccl. Editions: J.A.Giles, Worlds of Venerable Bede (12v, 1843–1845); J.P.Migne, Ven. Bedae Opera Omnia (Paris, 1850–1851), in Patrologiae Cursus Completus (Sec. Ser.), XC-XCV (but Vol. XCV is only partly devoted to Bede); Expositio Actuum Apostolorum et Retractatio, ed. M.L.W.Laistner (Cambridge, Mass., 1940). See


M.L.W.Laistner, A Hand-List of Bede Manuscripts (Ithaca, N.Y., 1943), reviewed by N.Ker, MA,


(1944). 36–40; and C.W.Jones, Bedae Pseudepigrapha (Ithaca, N.Y., 1939). See also R.W.Chambers,

“Bede,” in Proc. Brit. Acad., XXII (1936). 129–156. For a discussion of Bede’s grammatical and critical writings, see J.W.H.Atkins, op. cit., pp. 43–51. For a discussion of his Latin poetry, see Raby 1927, pp. 146–149 and Raby 1934, I. 174–175. The only vernacular poem of Bede’s that has come down to us, the Death Song, is taken up below, p. 44.

15 Ed. C.Plummer, Bedae Opera Historica (Oxford, 1896), and J.E.King, Baedae Opera Historica (Loeb Classical Library, 1930). Both these editions also give the Vita Beatorum Abbatum (the lives of the abbots of the double monastery at Wearmouth-Jarrow), the letter to Archbishop Egbert, and Cuthbert’s letter on the death of Bede. The Loeb edition gives Latin text and English translation on opposite pages. Another translation: Everyman’s Library No. 479, with an admirable introductory essay by Vida D.Scudder. Concordance: P.F.Jones, A Concordance to the Hist. Eccl. of Bede (Cambridge, Mass., 1929).



competence to be expected of a gifted man whose life had been spent in speaking, reading, writing, and teaching that tongue. His Latin style was no miracle, pace Hodgkin. 16 It lacks the showiness of Aldhelm’s style because Bede, unlike Aldhelm, did not care for show. The style, in its strength and simplicity, reflects the man. Bede included in his History, alongside the events commonly reckoned historical, many miracles, visions, and other matters which strike the modern reader as unhistorical enough. Here we must allow for the credulity of the age and, in particular, for the influence of Pope Gregory’s Dialogues. Yet even here Bede makes every effort to be accurate. He admits wonders only after he has investigated them and found them well authenticated. His standards of verification are not ours, of course. If today a victim of snakebite were to drink down some scrapings of Irish books and get well, we should not conclude that the scrapings had worked the cure. But Bede in accepting this conclusion not only echoed the medical science of his day; he also paid tribute to the sanctity and miracle-working power of the sister island. Certainly no Irishman could outdo Bede in reverence for Ireland. He realized to the full, Romanizer though he was, how much the English owed to their Irish teachers, and he showed himself deeply grateful and appreciative. Most of the unhistorical matter in Bede’s History belongs to legend in the technical sense; that is, to hagiography. Besides the incipient or abbreviated saints’ lives scattered through the work, Bede wrote saints’ lives as such, notably two lives of St. Cuthbert, the shorter in hexameters, the longer in prose. 17 Bede’s contemporaries Felix and Eddi also wrote saints’ lives, 18 and thenceforth this kind of biography flourished in England as elsewhere in Christendom. 19 Secular biography is exemplified in Bishop Asser’s Life of King Alfred, 20 but many centuries were to pass before this genre really began to flourish. 21 One of Bede’s pupils, Egbert, became Archbishop of York and there set up a cathedral school which in time eclipsed Wearmouth-Jarrow as a center

16 Op. cit. I. 354.

17 Here Bede was presumably imitating the fifth-century poet Sedulius, who balanced his Carmen Paschale with a prose Opus Paschale. Compare Aldhelm’s two versions of De Virginitate, likewise inspired by the example of Sedulius.

18 For Felix, see below, p. 75. Edition of Eddi: B.Colgrave, The Life of Bishop Wilfrid, by Eddius Stephanus: text, translation, and notes (Cambridge, 1927). As early as 713 some monk of Whitby (name unknown) had written a life of Gregory the Great; it was edited in 1904 by (Cardinal) F.A.Gasquet.

19 Other hagiographies of the golden age: Æthelwulf, Carmen de Abbatibus Cellae Suae, in T.Arnold’s edition (Rolls Ser., 75) of Simeon of Durham’s Hist. Eccl. Dunhelmensis (1882), Appendix I. 265–294; Alcuin, De Pontificibus et Sanctis Ecclesiae Eboracensis Carmen, in Wattenbach and Duemmler, Monumenta Alcuiniana (Berlin, 1873), PP. 80–131, and in J. Raine, The Historians of the Church of York and its Archbishops (Rolls Ser., 71), I. 349–398; Alcuin, Vita Sancti Willibrordi (prose and verse), in Wattenbach and Duemmler, ed. cit, pp. 35–79, and in Migne, Patr. Lat., CI. 694–724; Willibald, Vita Bonifatii, in Mon. Germ. Hist., Scriptorum, II. 331–353 (translation by G.W.Robinson, Cambridge, Mass., 1916); the anonymous Vita Alchuini Abbatis in Wattenbach and Duemmler, ed. cit., pp. 1–34.

20 Ed. W.H.Stevenson, Asser’s Life of King Alfred (Oxford, 1904). Translations: by A. S.Cook (Boston, 1906); by L.C.Jane (1924).

21 The first autobiography by an Englishman is the Vita… Willibaldi…in T.Tobler, Descriptions Terrae Sanctae…(Leipzig, 1874), pp. 1–55. Willibald died in A.D. 786.



of learning. Of the Englishmen trained at York the greatest was Alcuin (735–


804). 22 The writings of Alcuin have no great literary worth, it is true, but the man himself remains one of the most important figures in the cultural history of the West. He owes his importance to the part he played in the revival of learning which took place under Charles the Great: the so-called Carolingian Renaissance. Thanks to this revival, the culture of classical antiquity did not die out in western Europe but was transmitted to later generations and became the foundation upon which modern civilization was built. But Charles could not set the revival going out of the resources of his own empire, where only remnants of classical culture survived. He had to turn to Italy, to Ireland, and above all to England for teachers and cultural leadership generally. And for captain of his little troop of scholars he chose Alcuin, who reformed and built up the court school of Charles on the model of the cathedral school at York, and had a hand in founding other centers of learning, notably the one at Tours, where he served as abbot. The success of the Carolingian Renaissance was largely due to Alcuin’s able leadership. But no revival of learning would have been possible, even so, had not the great reform of the Gallican and German churches, earlier in the eighth century, prepared the way. This reform was the work of Boniface, another Englishman. To Alcuin and Boniface, then, we of the West owe so much that they will always remain major figures in the history of our culture. 23 While English missionaries and scholars were busy bringing civilization


back to the Continent, Viking raids were laying low the cultural centers of England. During the ninth century the destruction went so far that, in King Alfred’s words. 24 whereas


men from abroad used to seek wisdom and learning here in this country,…now, if we were to have such wisdom and learning, we could get them only from outside. So utterly had book-learning fallen away in England that there were very few, this side the Humber, who knew how to interpret their [Latin] service- books in English, or even how to translate from Latin into English a written message; and I think there were not many beyond the Humber.

The good King made great efforts to revive the learning of the golden age, but not until the latter part of the tenth century did Latin scholarship again begin to flourish in England. At that time, under the leadership of the three bishops Dunstan, Æthelwold, and Oswald, backed by King Edgar,

22 Ed. J.P.Migne, Alcuini Opera Omnia (Paris, 1863), in Patrologia Cursus Completus (Ser. Lat. Prior), Vols, c and CI; [W.) Wattenbach and [E.] Duemmler, Monumenta Alcuiniana (Berlin, 1873), sixth volume of P.Iaffe’s Bibl. Rerum Germ. See also Mon. Germ. Hist., for poems and letters: poems in Poetae Latini Aevi Carolini, I and IV; letters in Epistolarum, IV. See A.F.West, Alcuin and the Rise of the Christian Schools (1892); C.J.B.Gaskoin, Alcuin: His Life and his Work (1904); R.B.Page, The Letters of Alcuin (1909). W.S. Howell, The Rhetoric of Alcuin and Charlemagne: introduction, text, translation, and notes (Princeton, 1941). On the verse see Raby 1927, pp. 159–162 and Raby 1934, I. 178–187, and for criticism J.W.H.Atkins, op. cit., pp. 51–58.

23 For a brief discussion see Raby 1927, pp. 154–158; see also Atkins, op. cit., p. 61. For fuller treatment see S.J.Crawford, op. cit., and W.Levinson, op. cit.

24 From the Preface of his translation of Gregory’s Cura Pastoralis.



a monastic reform took place which brought about, among other things, a marked renewal of scholarly activity. 25 The learning of late Old English times, however, was chiefly concentrated in the south and west: at Glastonbury, Winchester, Canterbury, Worcester, and other centers. Monasticism in the north had been so thoroughly uprooted by the Danes that in spite of the efforts of Archbishop Oswald of York it did not come back into its own until the twelfth century. In this second period of learned activity the Anglo-Latin writings seem to have been chiefly in prose. Frithegoda of Canterbury and Wulfstan of Winchester wrote verse, it is true, 26 but, apart from their compositions, little except prose has come down to us. The prose writings of the period follow the pattern laid down in the golden age, though not without variation. Hagiography continues to flourish. 27 Historical writing proper is represented by the Chronica of the ealdorman Ethelwerd 28 and the Historia Novorum in Anglia of Eadmer. 29 We also find translations from English into Latin, foreshadowings of the decline in vernacular letters which lay ahead. 30 The most active field, however, came to be that of monastic education and discipline. Here Æthelwold led the way with his De Consuetudine Monachorum, but his pupil Ælfric, best known for vernacular writings, composed the fundamental schoolbooks needed for teaching Latin to the oblates. These books, the Grammar, the Glossary, and the Colloquy, 31 gave to the masters in the monastic schoolrooms admirable tools. The Colloquy in particular is so good that even today we have nothing better to offer to would- be learners of a foreign tongue. Nothing of comparable merit can be found among the schoolbooks current at this time on the Continent.

25 Consult D.Knowles, The Monastic Order in England: A History of its Development… 943–1216 (Cambridge, 1940); J.A.Robinson, The Times of St. Dunstan (Oxford, 1923). See also F.Tupper, MLN, VIII (1893). 344–367.

26 See Raby 1927, pp. 152–153. Bibliography in CBEL, I. 107.

27 Hagiographies of the second period: B.’s life of Dunstan, in W.Stubbs, Memorials of St. Dunstan; Rolls Ser., 63 (1874), pp. 3–52 (but Stubbs thinks that B. was a Continental Saxon, not an Englishman); Osbern’s life of Dunstan, in Stubbs, ed. cit., pp. 69–161; Eadmer’s life of Dunstan, in Stubbs, ed. cit., pp. 162–249; Ælfric’s life of Æthelwold, in J.Stevenson’s edition (Rolls Ser., 2) of the Chronicon Monasterii de Abingdon, II (1858). 253–266; Wulfstan of Winchester’s life of Æthelwold (prose with appended verses), in Migne, Patr. Lat., CXXXVII 79–114; Frithegoda of Canterbury’s life of Wilfrid (verse), in Raine, ed. cit., I. 105–159; Eadmer’s life of Wilfrid, in Raine, ed. cit., I. 161–226; the anonymous life of Oswald, in Raine, ed. cit., I. 399–475; Eadmer’s life of Oswald, in Raine, ed. cit., II. 1–59; Eadmer’s life of Anselm, in M.Rule’s edition (Rolls Ser., 81) of Eadmer’s Historia Novorum (1884), pp. 303–440; the anonymous life of Edward the Confessor, ed. H.R.Luard (1858; Rolls Ser., 3), PP. 387–435.

28 Monumenta Historica Britannica (1848), pp. 499–521. As Ethelwerd was a layman, one would not expect him to write good Latin; the thing to wonder at is his ability to write Latin at all. So far as we know, western Europe possessed no other Latin-writing layman of royal blood c. 1000.

29 Ed. M.Rule, ed. cit., pp. 1–302. Eadmer’s work is well done, but does not live up to its title; it amounts to a life of Anselm, told by a devoted follower of his.

30 Thus, we have a translation into Latin of the Old English Annals. Colman’s life of Bishop Wulfstan of Worcester was written in English but survives only in a Latin translation (by William of Malmesbury). See R.W.Chambers, EETS, 186 (1932), pp. lxxxiii-iv.

31 Ed. J.Zupitza, Ælfrics Grammatik und Glossar (Berlin, 1880); W.H.Stevenson, Early Scholastic Colloquies (Oxford, 1929), pp. 74–102 (Stevenson’s book includes other Anglo-Latin colloquies as well); G.N.Garmonsway, Ælfric’s Colloquy (1931).



Ælfric’s other Latin works, though written with characteristic competence, have less cultural importance. 32 If the golden age is marked by a fusion of cultures, the period with which we are now dealing shows an ever growing predominance of the Mediterranean over the native component in the fusion-product. By the eleventh century English monastic life had come to differ little from that of western Europe in general. The medieval world was fast becoming a cultural unit, dominated by a Church international in outlook and centralized in administration. To this trend of things the Church of England, by her devotion to the Papacy and her missionary efforts in behalf of papal supremacy, had made the decisive contribution, through Wilfrid, Boniface, and a host of other workers in the field. In the cataclysm which was about to sweep the English nation into foreign bondage, one element of the national life stood firm:

Anglo-Latin letters. The literature of learning held its own, and even made forward strides, because its linguistic medium and scholarly pattern were already international.

32 Bibliography in CBEL, I. 91–92.






The Old Tradition: 1 Poetic Form

Few things of man’s begetting outlast for long the times that give them birth, and works of literary art share the fate of the rest. The loss is the heavier when (as in Old English) much of the artistic activity takes the shape of speakings; that is, literary compositions designed for oral rendition (sung or said) and as a rule not circulated in written form. 2 No speakings, of course, could come down to us unless they happened to get recorded, and even then the chances would be all against their survival, for most of the old manuscripts perished long ago, victims of the years. 3 One might therefore reasonably expect to find the Old English literary records (or what is left of them) made up chiefly of writings; that is, compositions designed for circulation in written form. And when the records are studied, this expectation is more than fulfilled; indeed, the student may seek long before he finds any speakings at all. The few that survive are our oldest literary heirlooms, for the literary art of the English (as of the other Germanic peoples) before their conversion to Christianity found expression in speakings only. The English of heathen times knew how to write, it is true. They brought with them from the Continent a futhark or runic alphabet of twenty-four letters, and to this in the course of time they added several new signs of their own. But the runes were epigraphic characters, and their use was therefore limited to inscriptions, cut or hammered out on hard surfaces (e.g., the pommel of a sword, the sides of a monumental stone, the top or sides of a box). This kind of writing is obviously not well suited to the recording of literary compositions, which (unless very short) need more space than a runemaster would be likely to find available. Moreover, even if a suitable

1 The chief work on the Germanic literary tradition is A.Heusler’s Die Altgermanische Dichtung (Berlin, n.d. but copyright 1926). For the Germanic background in general, J.Hoops’s Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde (4V, Strassburg, 1911–1919) is useful.

2 Speakings are also known as “oral literature,” a subject treated at length by H.M. and N.K.Chadwick, The Growth of Literature. The actual and hypothetical speakings of Old English are discussed in Vol. I of this work (Cambridge, 1932). The authors, however, take for speakings many compositions which others interpret as writings.

3 Only eight Old English MSS with much vernacular poetry in them have survived. These are the Corpus MS, more precisely MS CCCC 201, at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (whence the abbreviation CCCC); the so-called Paris Psalter, or MS Fonds Latin 8824 of the Bibliothèque National in Paris; the Vercelli Book, or Codex CXVII of the cathedral chapter library at Vercelli in northern Italy; the Exeter Book, preserved in the library of Exeter Cathedral; MS Junius II (often called the Cædmon MS) at the Bodleian Library, Oxford; and three MSS in the Cotton collection at the British Museum: Vitellius A XV (2nd MS, the Nowell or Beowulf codex), Otho A VI (the Boethius MS), and Tiberius B I. Nearly all these MSS, moreover, have come down in a more or less damaged or mutilated state.




hard surface could be found, it would hardly be used to put a poem on unless there were some very special reason for making such a record. Be it added that runemasters were few and far between, and presumably drew good pay for cutting an inscription; in other words, epigraphic writing was expensive. The poets, for their part, would naturally be interested in making their compositions known to the public (i.e., in uttering them, or having them uttered, before audiences), not in making records of them which few would see and fewer could read. Certainly no English poems of heathen times have come down to us in the form of runic inscriptions, and we have no reason to think that such poems were ever so recorded in English (though Scandinavian cases of the kind are known). With the introduction of Christianity a great change took place. The missionaries brought parchment, pen and ink, and the custom of writing literary compositions down. They also brought the Roman alphabet. 4 The English futhark, epigraphic though it was in origin and history, might perfectly well have been used for writing with pen and ink on parchment, but the foreign missionaries and their English pupils associated the Roman alphabet with this kind of writing and used it, not only in copying Latin texts, but also in making English texts. Yet the old runes were not given up for centuries. They were kept alongside the new letters, and the co-existence of two kinds of writing naturally led to overlapping. On the one hand, letters might be used in inscriptions; on the other, runes might be used in manuscripts. The two runes thorn and wynn, indeed, were added to the alphabet, as symbols for sounds wanting in postclassical Latin but common in English. And the new practice of recording literary compositions had its effect on native epigraphy: thus, the Dream of the Rood won epigraphic as well as manuscript record. 5 In Old English times the Church monopolized the production of manuscripts. A layman might know how to read; he might even be an author (like King Alfred). But it would hardly occur to him to undertake the work of a scribe, any more than it would occur to the ordinary reader or author of today to undertake the work of a printer. The making of manuscripts was in the hands of the Church because the art or craft of writing on parchment with pen and ink was part of the professional equipment of the well-trained cleric, and of him alone. And the monopoly was strengthened by the workings of supply and demand. The Church made manuscripts chiefly though not wholly for her own use; the readers of the day were mostly clerics. Old English literature as we have it (not as it was) therefore reflects the tastes and professional .interests of the clergy; from the MSS we get a one-sided picture of the literary art of those days. Poems that the

.interests of the clergy; from the MSS we get a one-sided picture of the literary art
.interests of the clergy; from the MSS we get a one-sided picture of the literary art
.interests of the clergy; from the MSS we get a one-sided picture of the literary art





4 Most of the Old English MSS were written in the so-called insular hand, a minuscule script developed by the Irish out of half-uncial and brought to England by Irish missionaries in the seventh century. Toward the end of the Old English period the insular hand lost favor, and the so-called Caroline minuscule script, already dominant on the Continent, became fashionable in England as well. 5 Runes were used for some alliterative verses inscribed on the Franks Casket (eighth century?). Text in Krapp-Dobbie, VI. 116.




clerics for any reason disliked or disapproved of did not get recorded, unless they happened to strike the fancy of some nonconformist scribe or anthologist who had the courage of his heterodoxy. Moreover, since little space was available, items thought of as trivial or as less important stood little chance of inclusion in a MS miscellany. Few things in lighter vein could be expected to come down to us under such-conditions, and in fact the tone of the extant literary monuments is prevailingly serious and edifying. Departures from the normal pattern we owe, no doubt, to the likes and dislikes of individual makers or takers of MSS. In many cases pride of authorship may have played a part; certainly a clerical author had ways of getting his compositions written down, even if he did not write them down himself, and the bulk of what we have was presumably composed as well as written down by clerics. A few compositions seem wholly secular, and two of them (Wife’s Lament and Eadwacer) purport to be by women. But even here we cannot be certain of lay authorship; in every period of English literature clergymen have composed works secular enough in tone and spirit, and a male author might perfectly well make a woman his mouthpiece. The case is otherwise when the composition is definitely heathen (rather than secular); here clerical authorship must be ruled out. Unluckily no compositions of this kind, on the literary level, have come down to us, except a few spells (or charms), and most of these, in their recorded form, show more or less of a Christian coloring. On the other hand, we cannot safely presume clerical authorship of every work religious in tone or subject. Cædmon was a farmhand (Hild made him a monk after God had made him a poet), and other religious pieces besides his may well have been composed by men who had never taken holy orders or monastic vows. Our uncertainties are the greater since in most cases we do not know so much as the name of the author of a given work, and even if we happen to know the author’s name we may be little the wiser; thus, our knowledge of the poet Cynewulf is limited to what we can glean from his poems. This want of biographical information, however, need not disturb us overmuch. Literary art in Old English times was highly traditional, and the personal history of the author did not come out in his compositions so markedly as it does in times when originality rather than mastery of a conventional mode wins the prizes. Old English writings might be in prose or verse; speakings were restricted to verse, in early times at least. 6 We set the prose aside for the time being. The verse, writings and speakings alike, was regularly composed in the alliterative measure that had come down to the English from their Germanic forefathers.

6 It seems unlikely that the English of heathen times cultivated the prose speaking or anecdote as a literary art-form; certainly we have no evidence of the existence of such an art-form then, though it may have developed in later times. See C.E.Wright, The Cultivation of Saga in Anglo-Saxon England (Cambridge, 1939), and K.Malone, English Studies, XXIII (1921). 110–112.



Before taking up the poetic kinds (or genres) cultivated in this measure, it will be needful to consider the measure itself, and the style that went with it. Old Germanic verse makes many problems for the prosodist, and none of the methods of scansion proposed need be taken as definitive. 7 Here we shall deal briefly with the main points. The rhythm of the verse grew naturally out of the prose rhythm (as we saw above), by a process of metrical heightening and lowering. A metrically heightened syllable is called a lift (German hebung); a metrically lowered syllable, a drop (German senkung). Only a syllable that took or might take a main stress in the prose rhythm was subject to metrical heightening; in the same way, only a syllable that lacked or might lack stress in the prose rhythm was subject to metrical lowering. We do not know just how the metrical heightening and lowering were brought about, but time as well as stress played a part, and such verse as was sung or chanted necessarily made use of pitch patterns different from those of ordinary speech. The metrical heightening might be reinforced by alliteration 8 or rime, giving a major lift. A lift not so reinforced is a minor lift. The basic metrical unit was the short verse, made up of a varying number of syllables, at least one of which was a lift. Usually the short verse had two lifts. Such a verse might stand alone or in series. We illustrate with a passage from a legal text, Hit Becwæð: 9

two lifts. Such a verse might stand alone or in series. We illustrate with a passage
two lifts. Such a verse might stand alone or in series. We illustrate with a passage



and Line

ne plot ne ploh, ne turf ne toft, ne furh ne fotmæl, ne land ne læse, ne fersc ne mersc, ne ruh ne rum,

wudes ne feldes, landes ne strandes, wealtes ne wæteres.

nor plot nor plowland, nor sod nor site, nor furrow nor foot-length, nor tillage nor pasturage, nor fresh [water] nor marsh, nor rough [land] nor open [land],

of wood nor of field, of land nor of strand, of wold nor of water.

Here we have nine short verses in series. The first six verses make a group, and the last three verses make another group; grouping by twos (giving long verses or lines) does not occur in this passage. The verses are not linked one to another by alliteration; each verse is a closed system so far as alliteration goes. Six verses have alliteration, two have rime, and one dispenses with both these aids. Passages like that from Hit Becwæð were exceptional in Old English.

7 A recent study: J.C.Pope, The Rhythm of Beowulf (1942). Earlier studies: E.Sievers, Altgermanische Metrik (1893); A.Heusler, Deutsche Versgeschichte I (1925). See also K. Malone, ELH, VIII (1941). 74–80.

8 Two syllables are said to alliterate if each begins with the same sound. But in Old English verse only lifts were included in an alliterative pattern. Morover, the consonant combination sk (sc) for alliterative purposes was reckoned a single sound, and alliterated with itself only; similarly with the combinations st and sp. On the other hand, all vowels and dipthongs, for alliterative purposes, were reckoned the same sound.

9 F.Liebermann, Die Gesetze der Angehachsen, I (1903). 400. The text was also printed by F.Grendon, Jour, of Amer. folk-Lore, XXII (1909). 179–180. The title Hit Becwæð “[he] bequeathed it” comes from the first two words of the text; compare Habeas Corpus and the like.



Ordinarily the short verses were grouped by twos, and a given verse occurred as the on-verse (first half) or the off-verse (second half) of a line. Here

alliteration could not be dispensed with, for the line was an alliterative unit.

A short verse included in a line is commonly called a half-line. A good example

of an Old English line of poetry is Beowulf, 1725,


hu mihtig God

how mighty God to mankind.

manna cynne

Here hu mihtig God is the on-verse, manna cynne the off-verse. The two halves of the line are bound together by alliteration: the stave (i.e., the alliterating sound) is m. The line has four lifts, two in each half; two of the lifts are major, two are minor. The second and third lifts have no drop between them, but they have a pause between them which separates them more sharply than a drop could do. A more unusual (though not rare) type is Beowulf, 2987,

heard swyrd hilted, ond his helm somod hard sword hilted, and his helm besides.

Here the two halves are doubly bound by alliteration: heard, hilted and helm are

linked by the h-stave, swyrd and somod by the s-stave. There are five lifts: three

in the on-verse, two in the off-verse. The first three lifts are juxtaposed, and so

are the last two. All the lifts are major. Yet a third type is Beowulf, 2995,




landes ond locenra beaga;

of land and linked rings; he needed not to blame him for those rewards.

ne ðorfte him ða lean oðwitan

Here we have six lifts, three in each half-line. Three lifts are major, three minor. Each lift is accompanied by one or more drops. Many other varieties occur, but the fundamental features of the line remain the same. It is easier to determine the lift-pattern of a line than to divide its half-lines

into feet (or measures). Here it is customary to distinguish between the half-lines

of normal length (as in Beowulf, 1725) and so-called swollen or abnormally long

half-lines (as in Beowulf, 2995). According to Sievers, a normal half-line had two feet; a swollen half-line, three feet. According to Heusler and Pope, however, each half-line, whether normal or swollen, had two feet. Heusler recognized only one kind of foot: this began with a main stress and included also a subordinate stress. Sievers, however, recognized four kinds of feet. To these he gave no names, but we shall call them classes 1, 2, 3, and 4. In class I (e.g., drýhten “lord”) the stress came at the beginning; in class 2 (e.g., begóng “circuit”) the stress came at the end; in class 3 (e.g., féa “few”) the foot was monosyllabic; in class 4 (e.g., wélþùngen “excellent”) the foot was polysyllabic, with initial main stress and medial or final subordinate stress. 10 Both Heusler and Sievers began

10 Here the acute accent marks main stress; the grave, subordinate stress. Sievers did not include in

his system a polysyllabic foot with initial or medial subordinate stress and final main stress: e.g., fùl


with initial or medial subordinate stress and final main stress: e.g., fùl ar d “ quite

d “quite inexorable” (Wanderer 5).



the half-line, on occasion, with an onset of one or more syllables reckoned as anacrusis: a kind of running start that belonged indeed to the half-line but made no part of the podic pattern. For Heusler this pattern was the same in every foot: two beats to the measure, whatever the number of syllables in the foot. The first or stronger beat coincided with the main stress of the prose rhythm. The second or weaker beat coincided with the subordinate stress of the prose rhythm, if such a stress occurred; otherwise, the weaker beat fell on an unstressed syllable, or on a pause (metrically a rest) in the prose rhythm, and served to heighten the syllable or the rest as the case might be. We illustrate Heusler’s system of scansion with the on-verse of Beowulf, 1173:

beo wið Geatas glæd

be kind to the Geatas.

Here beo wið made the onset, Geatas the first foot, and glæd the second foot. The stronger beats fell on the alliterating syllables. The weaker beat of the first foot fell on the ending of Geatas; that of the second foot, on the rest after glæd. For Sievers the half-lines fell into five types. In type A, both feet were of class I; in type B, both were of class 2; in type C, the first was of class 2, the second was of class I; in type D, the first was of class 3, the second was of class 4; in type E, the first was of class 4, the second was of class 3. Examples of these types follow, all taken from on-verses of Beowulf. The onset is set off by double diagonals; the feet are divided by single diagonals.

A 1987 hu // lómp eow on / láde

B 1939 þæt hit scéa / denm

C 1192 him was fúl / bóren

D 2705 for // wrát / Wédra hèlm

E 1160 gléomànnes / gýd


how went it with you on the road?

that it the damascened sword

the cup was borne to him

The Weders’ lord cut through

the gleeman’s song.

Pope’s system of scansion may be described as a modification of Heusler’s. According to Pope, each half-line had two feet, sung or chanted in 4/8 time (normal verse) or 4/4 time (swollen verse). The first foot of a halfline might be heavy or light. The second foot was regularly heavy. The light foot of Pope answers to the onset of Heusler; its lifts (one main and one subordinate) were both weak, and were excluded from the alliterative pattern of the line. We illustrate with Beowulf, 264a:

gebàd wíntra wòrn

he lived many years.

Here gebad makes the first foot, wintra worn the second. The first foot is light; it begins with a rest beat which takes the main stress. The second foot is heavy; it has two major lifts. The systems of Sievers, Heusler, and Pope are outlined here for the information of the reader, but the student will do well enough in reading if he follows the natural rhythm of the lines, with due heed given to the liftpatterns and in particular to those syllables which the poets by alliteration and rime marked for heightening.




We have already seen that the short verse, the basic metrical unit, usually occurred


by twos—that is, in lines, the two parts of which were linked by alliteration. Old English verse in all periods was almost exclusively linear (that is, made up of lines). In the oldest linear verse the end-stopped style prevailed: every line ended with a syntactical pause and every sentence made either a line or a couplet (i.e., a two-line unit). This pre-classical style of composition was kept, almost intact, in the mnemonic parts or thulas (i.e., metrical name-lists) of Widsith, where one sentence runs to six lines but all the others make either a single line or a couplet each. The Leiden Riddle likewise was done (though with less strictness) in the old style, and many one-line and two-line units occur in the spells. Otherwise, only relics of the pre- classical style may be found in the monuments. 11 Formulas like Beowulf, 456,

Hroðgar maþelode, helm Scyldinga Hrothgar spoke, the helm of the Scyldings,

seem to reflect such a style, and other one- or two-line formulas occur in the laws and elsewhere. One might have expected to find end-stopping used a good deal in the gnomic verses, but here the clerical writers have given us the traditional material in remodeled form. 12 A few pieces of gnomic wisdom, however, have come down to us in lines or couplets. Exeter Gnomics, 158,

licgende beam læsest groweð a fallen tree grows least

may serve to illustrate the one-line gnomic, while Age mec, 117–118,

biþ þæt selast þonne mon him sylf ne mæg wyrd onwendan þæt he þon wel þolige

that is best, when one himself cannot amend his fate, that he then put up with it

exemplifies the two-line gnomic. Somewhat similar in style is the linear formula of consolation used six times in Deor. Such formulas, nevertheless, regularly appear in a setting dominated by the run-on style of linear composition. In general, a plurilinear unit of classical Old English poetry was held together, not by uniformities of rhythmical or alliterative pattern, nor yet by uniformities of grouping (i.e., strophic structure), but by the use of run-on lines. Yet the classical style grew out of the older, end-stopped style of composition, and kept what could be kept of the earlier technic. In the matter of plurilinear units the poverty of the old style was marked: only the twoline unit or couplet existed. The richness of the classical style in plurilinear units is no less marked: we find many such units of three, four, five, six, or



seven lines; indeed, there was no limit to the number of lines permissible in making such a unit. This great change was brought about with the least possible disturbance to the old order. We illustrate with Beowulf, 639–641:

Ðam wife þa word wel licodon, gilpcwide Geates. Eode goldhroden freolicu folccwen to hire frean sittan.

To that woman those words were pleasing, the proud speech of the Geat. She went, gold-adorned, the noble folk-queen, to sit by her lord.

Here we have a three-line unit, made up of two sentences, each a line and a half long. Sentences of this length were forbidden to the oldest poets, but it would have been easy for them to say the same thing in two one-line sentences, as follows:

Ðam wife þa word wel licodon. Folccwen code to hire frean sittan.

These lines bring out, besides, the starkness of the old style. It may well have been a wish to make this style less bare which led to the expansion of the sentences beyond the linear limits; if so, the new plurilinear units were a mere by-product of a process set going for reasons unconnected with plurilinear structure. In this connection we distinguish two kinds of run-on line. In the first, the sentence goes on to the next line without a syntactical pause; in the second, it goes on with a syntactical pause. The second kind of run-on line has obviously kept something of the old end-stopped style, and presumably grew out of the linear sentence. We further distinguish three stages in the development of the run-on style. The early stage is exemplified in the amnemonic parts of Widsith (the mnemonic parts, as we have seen, exemplify the end-stopped style). Here the plurilinear units vary in number of lines, but this variation is held within comparatively narrow limits: no unit longer than nine lines occurs. All the natural divisions of the poem end with a line; not one ends with an on-verse (i.e., in the middle of a line). Single lines and couplets make a respectable proportion of the whole. Most of the run-on lines are of the second kind mentioned above; that is, they end with a syntactical pause, though not with a full stop. Beowulf may serve to illustrate the middle stage of the run-on style. Here some of the plurilinear units are of great length; their length may be so great, indeed, that they no longer can be felt as units and include diverse matters. Single lines and couplets are infrequent. The fits (or cantos, as some prefer to call them) all end with a line, but some of the natural divisions end with an on-verse: thus, the Finn and Ingeld episodes, and one of the speeches. 13 Six of the speeches begin with an off-verse. Judith exemplifies the late stage of the run-on style. Here one can hardly speak of plurilinear units at

an off-verse. Judith exemplifies the late stage of the run-on style. Here one can hardly speak



13 Line 389. But here the text seems to be defective.




all, or indeed of clean-cut units of any kind, apart from the fits. If we follow the punctuation of Wülcker, only 11 of the 350 lines end with a full stop, and three of these mark the end of a fit. Since the sentences usually begin and end in the middle of a line, the syntactical and alliterative patterns rarely coincide at any point, and the matter is presented en masse, so to speak. The verses give the effect of a never- ending flow, but this continuous effect is gained at a heavy structural cost. 14 So far as one can tell, the technic of adornment or elaboration was essentially the same in pre-classical and classical poetry. The starkness of the pre-classical style went naturally with its end-stopped lines, which left little room for ornamentation, but any room left did not fail to be used. Sheer adornment, it is true, may have been wanting in the oldest poetry: equivalents and attributives may have been put in, first of all, for the sake of the additional information which they gave. But if this was their origin, their original function soon became secondary. The use of equivalents for poetical purposes is technically known as variation. We illustrate, first, with a few linear formulas. In Beowulf, 3076,

Wiglaf maðelod Wihstanes sunu,

the on-verse gives us needful information: namely, that the next passage is to be a speech by Wiglaf. The off-verse may be said to give us further information about the speaker, but since this same information had been given to us earlier (in line 2602) the chief function of the off-verse is hardly informative but rather poetic or (if you will) stylistic. More precisely, since we know already that Wiglaf is Wihstan’s son, the off-verse serves primarily to repeat the subject in variant form, and, technically speaking, Wihstanes sunu is a variation of Wiglaf. The repetition includes the predicate as well (for maðelode is to be understood after Wihstanes sunu), but not in variant form; not formally, indeed, at all. We may therefore put the line into modern English as follows:

Wiglaf spoke, the son of Wihstan [spoke].

It will be seen that the variation, though appositive on the face of it, is felt rather as a repetition that involves the sentence as a whole. The term apposition therefore does not adequately describe the device, and the use of a special term variation seems quite in order. In Widsith, 1,

Widsið maðolade, wordhord onleac,

the off-verse repeats the predicate (not the subject) in variant form, and we may put the line into current speech as follows:

Widsith spoke, [he] unlocked the word-hoard.

Here the variation can hardly be said to give us any further information, and its function is strictly poetic or stylistic.

14 In this history a poem in the run-on style the stage of which is not specified may be presumed to belong to the middle stage. See, further, K.Malone, RES, XIX (1943). 201–204.



In both the examples which we have considered, the variation may be called inner, since it varies something already expressed in the same sentence. In Beowulf, 360,

Wulfgar maðelode to his winedrihtne,

we have a case of outer variation: his winedrihtne “his lord” varies something already expressed, indeed, but not in the same sentence; we know only from the context who Wulfgar’s lord is. In outer variation no parallelism of grammatical construction is to be expected as between the variation and the thing varied. Even in inner variation, indeed, such parallelism need not be thoroughgoing. In Beowulf, 1458,

þæt wæs an, foran, ealdgestreona,

the adverb foran varies the adjective an, and the line means “that was unique, [that was] to the fore, among old treasures.” In Beowulf, 2377–2378,

hwæðre he him on folce freondlarum heold, estum, mid are, oð ðæt he yldra wearð,

“but he backed him up, in the tribe, with friendly teachings, [he backed him up] with kindnesses, [he backed him up] with help, until he grew older,” the prepositional phrase mid are varies the simple case-forms freondlarum and estum. Here the variants, though loosely synonymous, are not identical in meaning (a state of things often found in the technic of variation). But more nearly synonymous variants may differ in grammatical construction. Thus, in Andreas, 1074b–1076,

him seo wen gelah, syððan mid corðre carcernes duru eorre æscberend opene fundon,

“that expectation played them false when the company, the angry spearmen, found the doors of the prison open,” the prepositional phrase mid corðre varies the nominative plural æscberend (here we have also a case in which the variation precedes the thing varied). Such variations in mid (or in the simple dative) presumably arose out of ordinary accompaniment: A with B was another way of saying A and B. When a variation happened to be almost or altogether identical in meaning with the thing varied the machinery of accompaniment might still be used, even though in such cases this machinery perforce lost its proper meaning and became a mere form of words. Stereotypes of another kind were the Kennings, a characteristic feature of Old Germanic poetical diction. These arose as variations, but in many cases became so familiar that they could be used without previous mention of the thing varied. A kenning may be described as a two-member (or two-term) circumlocution for an ordinary noun: such a circumlocution might take the form of a compound, like hronrad “sea” (literally “ridingplace of the whale”),






or of a phrase, like fugles wynn “feather“ (literally “bird’s joy”). 15 Alongside the kenning we find the heiti, a one-term substitute for an ordinary noun:

e.g., ash or wood in the sense “spear” (the weapon-name being varied in terms of material, like iron for “sword”). The heiti differed from the kenning in that it was simplex, not composital or phrasal, but it resembled the kenning in that it arose as a variation. In their use of kenning and heiti the English poets showed a characteristic classical restraint. These stylistic features did not have in England the luxuriant growth that they had in Iceland (whence come their names). One may note in passing that the circumlocutions for verbs, like grundwong ofgyfan “die” (literally “give up the earth”), were markedly fewer in number than those for nouns, and did not give rise to a technical term parallel to kenning. 16 Poetic adornment might also take attributive form. The adjective in such a phrase as fealu flod “fallow flood” is not without descriptive value and presumably came into use, as part of the phrase, because it had descriptive value, but it early became a standing or conventional poetic epithet by virtue of frequent use in such phrases. Many standing expressions like fealu flod may be found in Old English poetry. Thus, a þeoden “prince” is commonly and conventionally illustrious: he is a mære þeoden. The device is not limited to poetry, of course, but the poets made much use of it and not a few expressions of the kind belong definitely to poetic diction. In general it may be noted that the vocabulary and phraseology of poetry differed greatly from that of prose. Words and phrases may be marked as poetical by occurrence, dialectal form, or both. Thus, the word mece “sword” is doubly marked: it does not occur in prose (apart from glosses) and its dialectal form is Anglian (i.e., Northumbrian or Mercian). 17 Poetic diction, though out of fashion at the moment, is still with us, and the phenomenon, as such, hardly needs explanation here. The Anglian dialectal forms are another matter. Nearly all the Old English poetry extant has come down to us in West Saxon versions. In these versions, however, Anglian forms often occur, and some words, like mece, never take the West Saxon form which one would expect in a West Saxon setting. This feature, characteristic of so many Old English poetical texts, is commonly explained on the theory that the poems were first composed and recorded in an Anglian dialect, and that the scribes who made the West Saxon versions sometimes copied an Anglian dialectal form mechanically instead of substituting the equivalent West Saxon forms. Fixed forms like mece are explicable on the theory that the Anglian dialects held a certain prestige in metrical composition, and that the fixed forms served to give poetic flavor, for a West Saxon audience at least. As in any traditional period, so in Old English times poetic effects could

15 A modern parallel: Monty’s moonshine “artificial daylight.”

16 Sometimes Kenning is applied to verbal as well as to nominal circumlocutions. The most detailed study of Old English kennings is that of Hertha Marquardt, Die altenglischen Kenningar (Halle, 1938); see also K.Malone, MLN, LV (1940). 73–74.

17 The corresponding West Saxon dialectal form mæce occurs, be it noted, in the prose compound mæcefisc “mullet.”



be had, more or less mechanically, by using words and turns of phrase not customary in prose but familiar to the poet’s audience as part of the stylistic tradition of poetry. Such words and turns of phrase need not be labeled archaic; certainly they were very much alive in the mouths of the poets and in the ears of their hearers. 18 A given poet was reckoned worthy if he handled with skill the stuff of which, by convention, poems must be made. This stuff was not merely stylistic, however; matter as well as manner was prescribed. And that brings us to another part of our subject. 19

18 For want of evidence we cannot tell (in most cases) whether a given word or turn of phrase had earlier been used in prose, though now restricted to poetry. 19 Many stylistic features must here be left out, for want of space. Thus, we include no discussion of familiar rhetorical devices like litotes or understatement. For further discussion, see especially A.C.Bartlett, The Larger Rhetorical Patterns in Anglo-Saxon Poetry (1935) and the pioneer paper by J.Kail, “Ueber die parallelstellen in der angel sächsischen Poesie,” published in Anglia, XII (1889). 21–40. The most important recent article on the subject is that of L.D.Benson, PMLA, LXXXI (1966). 334–341. On the oral-formulaic theory in general, see H.L.Rogers, English Studies, XLVII (1966). 89–102.



The Old Tradition: Popular Poetry

The oldest Germanic verses extant are two metrical lists of names, recorded

in works of the first and second centuries of our era. Such a metrical list is

technically known as a thula. 1 Tacitus in his Germania (A.D. 98) gives us a two-line thula the names of which appear, of course, in Latinized form. 2 This thula has for us a special interest for another reason: it is our first record of the English name. The thula reads thus:

Reudingi, Auiones, Anglii, Varini, Eudoses, Suardones, Unithones.

A like thula, giving our earliest record of the Saxon name, is set down in the

Geography of Claudius Ptolemy (c. A.D. 150): 3

Saxones, Sigulones, Sabalingii, Cobandi, Chali, Phunusii, Charudes.


both cases the alliteration shows that we have to do with verse, and verse


this kind is well evidenced, later on, in vernacular sources. Thus, the pedigree

of King Cynric of the West Saxons is given metrical form in the following thula: 4

Cynric [wæs] Cerdicing, Cerdic Elesing, Elesa Esling, Esla Gewising, Gewis Wiging, Wig Freawining, Freawine Friðugaring, Friðugar Bronding, Brond Bældæging, Bældæg Wodening.

The King’s descent from Woden could be told in correct verses all the better for being fictitious—the names were chosen to fit the alliterative rules. More elaborate are the three thulas of the sixth century incorporated in Widsith. The first of these (lines 18–33 of the poem) falls into two parts: a five-couplet unit and a six-line unit. The first couplet may serve to show the structure and subject-matter of this thula: 5

1 The term comes from Iceland, where the genre flourished. The metrical name-lists of Widsith were first called thulas by Heusler and Ranisch, Eddica Minora (1903), p. lxxxix.

2 Cap. 40. For a full discussion of the passage, see K.Malone, Namn och Bygd, XXII (1934). 26–51. For the Latin text, see p. 317 of the standard edition of the Germania, that of R.P. Robinson (1935).

3 II, II, 7. See K.Malone, Namn och Bygd, XXII (1934). 30–31.

4 OE Annals, ed. Earle-Plummer (1892), pp. 16 (A.D. 552), 20 (A.D. 597). See also R.W. Chambers, Beowulf, An Introduction (2ed., 1932), pp. 316–317. The suffix ing, used 10 times here, means “son of.”

5 Widsith, ed. K.Malone (1936), pp. 67–68; see also pp. 12–20.




Ætla weold Hunum, Eormanric Gotum, Becca Baningum, Burgendum Gifica

Attila ruled the Huns, Ermanric the Goths, Becca the Banings, Gifica the Burgundians.

The first thula is a list of kings; each king (30 are listed) is identified in terms of the tribe he rules. The second thula, as we have it, consists of twenty lines (57–64, 68–69, 75, 79–87): ten single lines and five couplets. Its first two lines (a couplet) sufficiently indicate its pattern:

Ic wæs mid Hunum ond mid Hreðgotum, mid Sweom ond mid Geatum ond mid Suþdenum

I was with the Huns and with the Hreth-Goths, with the Swedes and with the Geats and with the South-Danes.

This thula is a list of tribes (54 are listed), given in terms of the personal experiences of the speaker. The third thula as it stands is made up of nine lines (112–118, 123–124), of which the first reads

Hehcan sohte ic ond Beadecan ond Herelingas I sought out Hehca and Beadeca and the Herelings.

This thula gives us a list of 28 men (presumably heroes); as in the second thula, they are listed in terms of the personal experiences of the speaker. Such terms are to be taken as no more than a part of the mnemonic machinery. In general, thula composition seems to have had a highly practical purpose: that of making it easier to remember the names listed. It follows that the names in the lists were thought worth remembering, and in fact the mnemonic material given in the thulas is weighty matter. It meant much to a West Saxon king that he trace his descent from Gewis, the eponym of the tribe, and from Woden, the chief god of the tribe. We have reason to think that his political hold would have been strengthened likewise by belief that he had Wig and Freawine for ancestors, and we may presume that some of the other names in his genealogy were meaningful to our forefathers even though they are only names to us. In sum, the thula which gave Cynric’s genealogy was a political poem of the first importance. The upstart West Saxon dynasty gained thereby in rank and worth: thenceforth its kings could face as equals the kings of the ancient Mercian house. 6 The importance of the thulas of Widsith lay elsewhere. The first thula embodied historical, the second ethnological lore; the third seems devoted to figures of story rather than (or more than) history. And many names in all three presumably brought to

mind in the hearer things that we miss, or know little of. The artistic worth of


list has always lain in the associations which its names evoke. Every name


an allusion for those who know it, and a series of names makes a series of





allusions. The names gathered in the thulas of Widsith stand for a world now long forgotten, the Germanic world of the migration period. Much of that world still lived in the England of the Widsith poet, and the old thulas had then a rich allusiveness which we see but darkly and know but in part. Beside the thulas we set the Runic Poem, another example of mnemonic verse. 7 Its practical value for would-be runemasters is comparable to that of ABC poems for learners of the alphabet. The runes were learned by name, and in a fixed order. The name of the rune gave one the clue to its phonetic value, and its place in the sequence gave one the clue to other values which need not be gone into here. It seems altogether likely that the runes from the first were learned by means of a poem in which each runename began a section, though in the original poem the sections may have been quite brief—possibly no more than a short verse each. From this original poem the three runic poems extant were presumably descended. For the Norwegian and Icelandic runic poems we refer the reader to the edition of Dickins. The English, poem is much more elaborate than the other two. We illustrate with the first section, devoted to the first rune:

English, poem is much more elaborate than the other two. We illustrate with the first section,

Feoh byþ frofur fira gehwylcum; sceal ðeah manna gehwylc miclun hyt dælan gif he wile for drihtne domes hleotan.

Valuables are a joy to every man; yet every man must needs be openhanded with them if he is minded to win favor with the Lord.

Feoh is the name of the f-rune, and accordingly begins the section and sets the stave for the first line of the section. Moreover, the section has feoh for its theme. This theme is treated in a manner reminiscent of the riddles. We can turn the section into a riddle, indeed, by putting ic eom for feoh byþ:

I am a joy to every man; yet every man must needs be openhanded with me if he is minded to win favor with the Lord.

The poem is 94 lines long. It consists of 29 sections, devoted to as many runes: 19 three-liners, seven four-liners, two two-liners, one five-liner (the last section). The section quoted above is representative of the whole, though the run-on style is much more pronounced in some of the other sections. The two-liners make up in length of line for shortness in number of lines. The Runic Poem, like the thulas, started as a speaking, but in its present form it is better classified as a writing. Its literary elaboration may well have taken place under the influence of the riddles, of which more anon. If so, the poem as it stands hardly antedates the eighth century and may be much later. The eleventh-century MS Cotton Otho B x in which the poem came down was lost by fire in 1731, and for our text we must rely on Hickes. 8

7 The best ed. is that of B.Dickins, Runic and Heroic Poems (Cambridge. 1915). 8 G.Hickes, Linguarum Veterum Septentrionalium Thesaurus (Oxford, 1705), 1. 135.



Another notable piece of mnemonic verse, the Old English Menologium or calendar poem, 9 is recorded in the eleventh-century MS Cotton Tiberius B I. This MS is commonly localized at Abingdon, but there are indications that the menologist himself lived in Kent; note, for instance, the poet’s special knowledge of the Canterbury minster (line 105). The poem is 231 lines long. It is written in standard Old.English (i.e., West Saxon) of the later period, and the poet seems to have flourished c. A.D. 1000. At the end of the poem we are told what practical purpose it is meant to serve: “now ye can find the feast days of the saints that one is duty bound to keep in this kingdom (i.e., England) nowadays.” For sources the menologist presumably used church calendars and the like. The want of English saints in the poem 10 indicates that one was not then duty bound to keep their days; the older saints were more important. But the poet gives much that he need not have included: the four seasons and the English names of ten of the twelve months, with striking poetical descriptions of nature attached. 11 We think it possible that in making his poetical calendar he drew not only on Latin sources but also on a now lost native mnemonic poem of popular character, a poem in which the months and seasons (but not the saints’ days) were named and characterized by descriptions not unlike those of the Menologium. 12 This possibility must serve as our excuse for considering the Old English calendar poem in the present chapter. In any case the menologist was no mere clerk, learned in Church Latin only. He was steeped in classical Old English poetry, as his style and choice of words reveal. Yet another example of mnemonic verse, Cynewulf’s Fates of the Apostles, will be taken up with the other works of that poet. The English of old, unlike their Continental contemporaries, made legal records in the mother tongue as well as in Latin. The laws of King Æðelbirht of Kent were set down in English as early as A.D. 602 or 603, and this king’s example was widely followed by English rulers of later times. Many charters, wills, and other legal documents in the vernacular have come down to us as well. 13 One of these,







9 Ed. R.Imelmann (Berlin, 1902); Krapp-Dobbie, VI. 49–55. See also H.Henel, “Ein altenglisches Prosa-Menologium,” in (Förster’s) Beiträge zur englischen Philologie, XXVI (1934). 71–91. The work which Henel here edits is obviously a prose companion-piece to our poem, though it cannot be reckoned literary and therefore will not be taken up in our chapter on Old English literary prose.

10 One English saint (Cuthbert) appears in the prose Menologium; see Henel, p. 71.

11 The months are not named (whether in English or Latin) in the prose Menologium, though the seasons are duly named (in English).

12 The seasons in Old English: winter, lencten, sumor, hærfest. The months: earlier and later iula (Dec. and Jan.), sol month (Feb.), hlyda (Mar.), easter month (Apr.), þrymilce (May), earlier and later liþa (June and July), weod month (Aug.), halig month (Sept.), winterfylleð (Oct.), blot month (Nov.). The menologist gave only the Latin names of January and July, but the English names can readily be inferred from those of December and June.

13 The best English editions of the laws are those of F.L.Attenborough, The Laws of the Earliest English Kings, edited and translated (Cambridge, 1922), and A.J.Robertson, The Laws of the Kings of England from Edmund to Henry I, edited and translated (Cambridge, 1925). A more complete edition is that of F.Liebermann, Die Gesetze der Angelsachsen (3v. Halle, 1903–1916). Most of the charters and wills may be found in the volumes of A.J. Robertson (Anglo-Saxon Charters, Cambridge, 1939) and D.Whitelock (Anglo-Saxon Wills, Cambridge, 1930); these may be supplemented bv A.C.Napier and W.H.Stevenson, Crawford



Hit Becwæð, is metrical throughout. 14 It falls into 46 short verses, nine of which were quoted above (p. 23). The text gives us the answer of a nameless landowner to some plaintiff who had laid claim to the defendant’s land. It is addressed, not to any court but to the plaintiff, who is told his claim has no merit and is urged to drop the suit. More precisely, the defendant says: (Sec. I) that the previous owner, now dead, had a clear title; (Sec. 2) that he, the defendant, got it from the previous owner; (Sec. 3) that he, the defendant, would never give it up to the plaintiff; (Sec. 4) that he would keep it all his life, just as the previous owner had done without challenge to his ownership. The fifth and last section reads:

Do swa ic lære:

beo ðe be þinum and læt me be minum; ne gyrne ic þines, ne læðes ne landes, ne sace ne socne, ne ðu mines ne ðærft, ne mynte ic ðe nan Sing.

Do as I say: keep to thine and leave me to mine; I crave nothing of thine, neither ground nor land, neither sake nor soke; neither hast thou need of mine, nor have I aught in mind for thee.

The text is one of A.D. 1000 or thereabouts. For the historian of literature its chief interest is metrical; note in particular the author’s use of rime instead of alliteration to bind together the two halves of the line beo ðe… minum, a use familiar in Middle English but rare in Old English alliterative poetry. As a piece of self-expression, too, the poem is worthy of note. The author speaks vigorously and to the point and makes his case come alive. Many other legal texts are metrical in spots. Short verses, alone or in series, are scattered here and there through the prose, and sometimes one comes upon a line or even a series of lines. Thus, the author of Gerefa brings his treatise to a metrical end: 15

Fela sceal to holdan names gerefan and to gemetfæstan manna hyrde. Ic gecende be ðam ðe ic cuðe; se ðe bet cunne, gecyðe his mare.

Many things are required of a loyal overseer and dependable director of men. I have set forth [the subject] as best I could; Let him who knows [it] better make more of it known.

ford Collection of Early Charters and Documents (Oxford, 1895), and F.E.Harmer, Select English Historical Documents of the Ninth and Tenth Centuries (Cambridge, 1914). The earlier collections of Thorpe, Kemble, and Birch are also still useful, though they must be used with caution. 14 See also Heusler, Altgerm. Dichtung, p. 66. For a contrary view, see Liebermann, III. 236. 15 Liebermann, I. 455.



The following passage from Rectitudines may also be quoted: 16

Laga sceal on leode luflice leornian, lof se ðe on lande sylf nele leosan.

The laws of the realm he must lovingly learn who is unwilling to lose his good name in the land.

In the Gerefa passage the third line has only three lifts and the fourth follows an alliterative pattern quite unusual though probably old, 17 while in the Rectitudines passage the alliteration foreshadows Middle English and ignores classical Old English practice. Such irregularities are common in the linear verse of legal texts. By its end-stopping too this verse is marked as non- classical; here it harks back to earlier times. The short verses usually have a two-beat pattern. Examples: ægðer ge dæde ge dihtes “both in act and in aim” (with alliteration); æt ræde ne æt dœde “by rede nor by deed” (with rime). As the examples indicate, we have to do with traditional formulas of one kind or another. Such tags are still common in legal phraseology, though the modern tags more often than not are without alliteration or rime, and consequently are not thought of as verse. Want of rime and alliteration in an Old English tag does not mean, of course, that the tag is unmetrical; it means that we cannot be sure of the tag’s metrical character unless the context points to metrical treatment. The stock of verse formulas varied more or less down the centuries; some old formulas went out, and others came in. Thus the tag ne sace ne socne in Hit Becwæð is late. Metrically speaking, nevertheless, it is of a piece with prehistoric English formulas, and its introduction cannot be looked upon as a metrical innovation. Setting their age aside, we classify the formulas in terms of the relationship between the members. This relationship may be of sound or sense. In terms of sound, the two members of a typical formula may be free (e.g., ne gyrne ic þines) or bound by rime (e.g., landes ne strandes) or alliteration (e.g., ne plot ne ploh). Again, they may be symmetrical (e.g., ne turf ne toft) or asymmetrical (e.g., ne furh ne fotmœl). A symmetrical formula may be simple (e.g., ne ruh ne rum) or compound (e.g., on ceapstowe oððe cyricware “at marketplace or churchmeeting”). The members of a compound formula may be linked by a common first element (e.g., oferseah and oferhyrde “oversaw and overheard”) or second element (e.g., on scipfyrde, on landfyrde “in ship-army, in land- army”); here the relationship is one of both sound and sense. The same holds of complete identity (e.g., hand on hand “hand in hand”) and partial identity in asymmetrical formulas (e.g., ne cyse ne cyslyb “nor cheese nor cheese- rennet”). So also in cognate constructions (e.g., to ræde gerædan “advisably advise, wisely decide”). Meaningful relationships may be of contrast (e.g., ær oððe æfter “before or after”) or of likeness (e.g., healdan and wealdan “hold and

16 Liebermann, I. 452. Other single or double lines will be found in I Cnut, 2 and 25 (Lieb., I. 280 and 304); II Cnut, 38 (Licb., I. 338); X Æðclrcd, Prol. I (Licb., I. 269); Excom., 2 (Lieb. I. 438); Geþyncðo, 3 (Lieb. I. 456); etc. 17 See K.Malone, Beiblatt zur Anglia, XLVIII (1937). 351–352.







rule”) or of mere association (e.g., manige menn “many men”). Other classifications might be. made (have been made, indeed), 18 but these will serve well enough to bring out the characteristic features of the short verses. The metrical formulas here taken up belonged, for the most part, to everyday Old English speech, which made more use of short verses, and had a greater awareness of the metrical side of speech, than is the case in current English. If these short verses may be counted by the hundred in legal writings, the reason is not far to seek: everybody uses stereotyped expressions but the legal mind has a particular fondness for them. It was above all in legal texts, then, that these fragments of popular metrical speech found place and held out against the literary verse and prose which imposed itself nearly everywhere else. 19 Yet in a few spells and sayings likewise the popular verse-form managed to keep a precarious foothold. Versified wisdom, like versified tags and name-lists, is old in English; older than the language, indeed. But it had to pay for the privilege of written record. The clerics who wrote down what we have of it made fewer changes, interestingly enough, in the spells than in the sayings. They presumably feared that a spell would not work unless they kept the old wording, while they knew a saying would hold good whatever the wording. We begin with the supernatural or magical wisdom of the spells (or charms). In Grendon’s collection, 20 thirteen are wholly or partly in English verse. Of these, two (A 21 and 22) are obviously variants of the same spell. We thus have twelve spells to consider. Two survive in MSS of the tenth century; 21 nine are recorded in MSS of the eleventh century; 22 one, written in a hand of c. 1100, occurs in a MS of the tenth century. 23 We have no way of knowing who made these spells, when or where they took shape,

in a MS of the tenth century. 2 3 We have no way of knowing who
in a MS of the tenth century. 2 3 We have no way of knowing who

18 Liebermann, II. 77–78. See also D.Bethurum, MLR, XXVII (1932). 263–279.

19 See below, p. 101, for the rhythmical prose of Ælfric.

20 F.Grendon, “The Anglo-Saxon Charms,” Jour. of Amer, Folk,-Lore, XXII (1909). 105–237. Item

A 15 II of the collection is not a spell but the legal poem Hit Becwæð, which we took up above.

21 From BM MS Regius 12 D XVII we have Wið Wæterælfadle “against waterelf sickness” (Grendon,

B 5, p. 194; Krapp-Dobbie, VI. 124–125). From BM MS Harley 584 we have Wið Cynnel “against

scrofula” (Grendon, A 9, p. 170; see also F.P.Magoun, Jr., Arkiv for nordisk Filologi, LX [1945]. 98–


22 From BM MS Cotton Caligula A VII we have Æcerbot “acre-boot, field-remedy” (Grendon, A 13, pp. 172–176; Krapp-Dobbie, VI. 116–118). From BM MS Harley 585 we have: (I) Wið Færstice “against a sudden stitch in the side” (Grendon, A I, pp. 164–166; Krapp-Dobbie, VI. 122–123), here called Slice; (2) Wið Dweorh “against a dwarf” (Grendon, A 2, p. 166; Krapp-Dobbie, VI. 121–122); (3) Wið Ceapes Lyre “against loss of cattle” (Grendon, A 22, p. 184; Krapp-Dobbie, VI. 123), here called Lyre when distinguished from its variant peofend but otherwise called Bethlem; (4) Nigon Wyrta Galdor “nine wort spell” (Grendon, B 4, pp. 190–194; Krapp-Dobbie, VI. 119–121), here called Wyrta; (5) Wið Lætbyrde “against slow birth” (Grendon, E I, pp. 206–208; Krapp-Dobbie, VI. 123–124), here called Lætbyrd. From the Corpus Christi College Cambridge MS 41 we have: (I) Wið Ymbe “against a swarm of bees” (Grendon, A 4, p. 168; Krapp-Dobbie, VI. 125); (2) Siðgaldor “hap spell” (Grendon, A 14, pp. 176–178; Krapp-Dobbie, VI. 126–128); (3) Wið Feos Nimunge “against cattle theft” (Grendon, A 16, pp. 180–182; Krapp-Dobbie, VI. 125–126), here called Garmund; (4) Wið Ceapes þeofende “against cattle theft” (Grendon, A 21, p. 184; Krapp-Dobbie, VI. 126), here called þeofend when distinguished from its variant Lyre but otherwise called Bethlem.

23 Wið Wennum “against wens” (Grendon, A 3, p. 166; Krapp-Dobbie, VI. 128), BM MS Regius 4

A XIV. This spell will here be called Wenne.



and how (if at all) the originals differed from the texts we have, apart from the ordinary linguistic changes down the years. We do not even know whether our texts were drawn from oral or written sources, though their ultimate source was presumably oral tradition. Strictly Christian spells like Bethlem may go back to a heathen original, but we need not make this presumption, since such spells might perfectly well have come into being in Christian times. Heathen elements in the spells are presumably old. Christian elements may reflect substitutions or additions. Much of the matter cannot be tied to religious belief, and is better classified as pseudo-science. In this history we take up the spells as examples of literary art, and leave to others the manifold non-literary problems which a student of spells must face. 24 Our spells make a literary group of their own, not only in subject-matter but also in versification and style. They reflect a tradition independent of classical Old English poetry, but allied to legal verse and to pre-classical end- stopped linear verse. 25 Nearly all our twelve spells include prose as well as verse. In the verse parts a line may be followed by a short verse, a short verse by a line. Alliteration may be heaped up, or may be wanting. A line may be made up wholly, or almost wholly, of lifts. The three-lift verse, too, is in use here: a verse-pattern longer than the short verse but shorter than the line. A poem may show much greater variety in line pattern than would be possible in classical poetry. Run-on lines are rare. The familiar classical device of variation is avoided. We find, instead, repetition, and serial effects not unlike those achieved in the thulas of Widsith or in certain passages of Beowulf (e.g., lines 1392 ff., 1763 ff.). The epitheton ornans and other commonplaces of the classical style are likewise rare in the spells. These vary much in literary merit, but they all have freshness and go. We will look at a few of them. The 13-line spell Wenne is marked by humor and lightness of touch. We quote in modernized form the first four and the last three lines:


Wen, wen, wen-chicken, here thou shall not build nor have any homestead, but thou shalt [go] north from here, to the near-by hill. There thou hast a wretch of a brother….

Do thou become as small as a linseed grain, and much smaller, like a handworm’s hipbone, and become so small that thou become nothing at all.

Note the humorous shift of stress in chicken, a shift which makes the word rime with wen. The thrice repeated become is also of stylistic interest. But the reader can make his own commentary.

24 There is a useful study by F.P.Magoun, Jr., Archiv, CLXXI (1937). 17–35, with bibliography; see also L.K.Shook, MLN, LV (1940). 139–140. 25 Traces of strophic arrangement have been found by I.Lindquist (Galdrar, Göteborgs Högskolas Årsskrift, XXIX [1923]), and F.P.Magoun, Jr. (ESt, LXXII [1937]. 1–6).




The two variants of Bethlem have some importance for the textual critic, and are therefore given here (the same translation will serve for both):


Bæðleem hatte seo buruh, Þe Crist on acænned wæs. Seo is gemærsod geond ealne middangeard. Swa þyos dæd for monnum mære gewurþe.


Bethlem hattæ seo burh ðe Crist on geboren wes. Seo is gemærsod ofer ealne middangeard. Swa ðeos dæd wyrþe for monnum mære.

Bethlehem is called the town that Christ was born in. It has become famous the world over. So may this deed become famous in men’s sight.



Lyre gives us the better text, but the two non-classical verses with which it began displeased somebody, and he made them into one line by putting geboren for acænned. Evidently a Christian spell could not always hold its own against the classical tradition. The following passage from Garmund is quoted for its metrical and stylistic features:

Garmund, godes ðegen, find þæt feoh and fere þæt feoh and hafa þæt feoh and heald þæt feoh and fere ham þæt feoh

Garmund, God’s thane, find the cattle and bring the cattle and have the cattle and hold the cattle and bring home the cattle.

Here the alliteration, the two three-lift verses, and the repetitions are worthy of special note. The appeal to Garmund was addressed, one may suspect, to Godmund in heathen times. The verses of Lætbyrd have power and poetry beyond expectation. We find space for a couplet only. A woman unable to feed her newborn child takes “part of her own child’s caul,” wraps it in black wool, and sells it to chapmen, saying:

I sell it, may ye sell it, this black wool and seed of this sorrow.


The four long spells are Siðgaldor (40 lines), Æcerbot (38 lines of verse and much prose), Wyrta (63 lines of verse, followed by a short prose passage), and Stice (27 lines of verse, preceded and followed by a few words of prose). Of these, the first seems wholly Christian; in style as well as matter it stands



closer to classical religious poetry than do the other spells. Among other things it gives us lists of biblical worthies, a feature reminiscent of the thulas. Except for a few lines it has little artistic merit. Æcerbot is Christian for the most part, but has passages (often quoted) that almost certainly go back to heathen times. Thus, the line eorðan ic bidde and upheofon “I pray to earth and to high heaven” has a strongly Christian context but nevertheless is unmistakably heathen. The famous line,

Erce, Erce, Erce, eorþan modor,


whatever it means, surely appeals to mother earth, and the noble, hymn-like passage,

Hal wes þu, folde, fira modor, beo þu growende on godes fæþme, fodre gefylled firum to nytte,

Hale be thou, earth, mother of men, be thou with growing things in God’s embrace, filled with food for the good of men,

takes us back to agricultural fertility rites, solemn ceremonies of immemorial antiquity. Wyrta names nine worts or plants that have virtue against poisons (particularly snake-bite), aches and pains, infections, and demons. 26 We are told that these nine worts counteract as many devils, poisons and infections, but no list of nine devils is given. We do get a list of nine kinds of poison, followed by another list of six kinds of swelling or blister:


Now these nine worts are potent…

against the red poison, against the runl 27 poison, against the white poison, against the blue poison, against the yellow poison, against the green poison, against the dark poison, against the blue poison, against the brown poison, against the purple poison;

against worm-swelling, against water-swelling, against thorn-swelling, against thistle-swelling, against ice-swelling, against poison-swelling.

Next comes a passage devoted to the cardinal points:

if any poison come flying from the east or any come from the north or any from the west over the people.

Nothing harmful was expected from the south, it would seem. The passages quoted show the serial effects characteristic of the literary art of the spells, an art marked by repetition and parallelism. The versification, too,

26 On the names of the worts, see H.Meroney, MLN, LIX (1944). 157–160. 27 The meaning of runl is unknown, but it seems to be a color word.



with its mixture of line and short verse, is interesting. Running water also has virtue, against snake-bite at least, and a couplet is added accordingly:

Ic ana wat ea rinnende and þa nygon nædran behealdað.

I alone know running water and that [i.e., running water] nine adders look to. 28